Minority athletes strive to balance sports and school

Kyle Roerink

Junior sprinter Curtis Eaton Jr. Rachel Kilroy | Daily Kent Stater

Credit: DKS Editors

Studying and training controls the life of the Mid-American Conference’s two-time 400-meter dash champion, Curtis Eaton Jr. He wakes up in the morning, goes to class and hits the books throughout the evening. Despite his demanding schedule, the junior communication studies major has maintained a 3.1 GPA in his field of study.

The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports recently released a study stating the graduation success rate for African-American students who participate in collegiate athletics rose from 59 percent in 2006 to 62 percent in 2009.

Eaton said his biggest motivation in life is graduation. He wants to share the sense of accomplishment his other family members had when they received degrees.

“I went to school in an urban area,” he said, “and it was kind of rough for a lot of the kids to want to push through and succeed academically. I had a strong household, and a lot of people didn’t have that family background. They didn’t know how to succeed and have that extra guidance.”

He said a few of his peers from high school went to college and participated in athletics, but most of them struggled with academics. He said Kent State’s athletic department provides its student athletes with all of the opportunities that regular students have: free tutoring and an academic resource center.

“I think we excel better academically because we’re so busy, and our day is so structured,” he said. “I think that pushes us to want to do our work because we have to. We don’t have a lot of free time.”

Kristin Reed, assistant athletic director, said the services are in place to help all students, no matter what race they are.

“We are here every day to best figure out how we can best provide these services to the students so they can be successful,” she said. “And that goes into tutoring, study table, the academic resource center and all of those kinds of things.”

Spending three days out of the week on the road during volleyball season, Krista Groce, senior exercise physiology major and a volleyball team member, said life can get stressful.

“It boils down to how hard you are going to work,” she said. “And if the professor is willing to help you … If you respect what they do, they will respect what you do. I think if we push hard and turn our assignments in on time, the only way you’re going to go is up.”

During the semester, Groce said she’s been tutored for her bio-chemistry class. Spending at least two hours studying for that class each day, Groce said she doesn’t “even know if she can count the amount of hours per week she puts into studying.”

She said her life consists of time on the court and time in the classroom. During the regular season, the student-athlete lifestyle can be demanding, she said. The volleyball team practices 15 hours per week and plays games throughout the weekend, leaving her with little time to study.

When it comes down to it, Groce said, achieving on and off the court is not about being a minority: It’s about persistence.

“I don’t really look at it as, ‘Oh, I am a minority and excelling,’ she said. “I just consider myself a regular person. I am just another student at another university who has the opportunity to play Division 1 athletics.”

Contact minority affairs reporter Kyle Roerink at [email protected].