KSU Athletes on the road

Tyler McIntosh

Members of Kent State sports teams find ways to make their studies a priority while traveling

Senior baseball player Jay Pacella has missed his share of classes.

But not because he was out drinking the night before or because he got caught up in a game of Madden. It’s because his team was on the road.

Pacella, like almost every other Kent State athlete, spends a great deal of time on the road during his season. The baseball, golf, softball and track and field teams spend more than half of their seasons on the road.

When a player knows they are going to miss a class because of a road game, Pacella said he or she will go to their respective professors with a written excuse.

“We get a letter signed by the president of Kent State that has the class absences that the coaches fill out for us,” Pacella said. “Most of the professors really understand. Part of why we are here is to play sports so a lot of them like to help us out.”

Once the work is assigned and the absences are cleared, the studying begins. Senior basketball player Kerrie James said the players on the women’s basketball team study any place they can while on road trips.

“We have at least an hour of study tables,” James said. “It depends on how long the bus trip is, but we always get some time on the bus, and then in the hotel room people get some work done. Work is also done on the way back home as well.”

While some student athletes have said getting work done on the road is next to impossible, senior golfer Tommy Wiegand said it’s not difficult if one makes an effort.

“Coming back from a 36-hole day of golf, being dead tired, and having to come back and study a couple of chapters for a test you have to make up when you get back is tough,” Wiegand said, “but it has to get done.”

Every player has their own method that helps them study on the road.

“Make sure you have your textbooks with you and make sure you know someone who has a laptop that you can do assignments on if you have a paper to write or if you need to go on the Internet for anything,” Pacella said.

Wiegand said that teaching himself is his trick.

“I’m lucky because I find it fairly easy to teach myself the material.” Wiegand said. “A lot of kids on the team know that if they are not in the class they are struggling to learn the information. The trick that I have come accustomed to is teaching myself how to learn the information on my own.”

Pacella, Wiegand and senior softball player Jamie Fitzpatrick all said they like to take more credit hours in their off seasons, but certain problems can arise and to keep them from making their ideal schedule.

Wiegand, who made the academic All-Mid-American Conference team last season, said the golf offseason falls between the two semesters, so loading up during one semester rather than the other is almost impossible.

“There’s really no off time,” Wiegand said. “We are off from Nov. 15 to Feb. 15, but we are out of school for most of that time so we only really have a few weeks. It’s really hectic because we have off-season conditioning and we are still practicing.”

Pacella said he likes to take 15 hours in the fall, baseball’s off-season, and 12 hours in the spring, but sometimes it is impossible due to classes in his major only being offered at certain times.

Fitzpatrick added that the softball team just tries to stay away from certain days and times during the season.

“We try not to schedule Thursday night classes because we travel a lot on Thursday.” Fitzpatrick said. “We also try to stay away from Friday classes obviously because we are on the road.”

Whatever the student-athletes are doing on the road, it is working. According to the Graduation Success Rate Report done by COHORTS from 1996-1999, each Kent State sport has produced a success rate at or above the federal rate.

This includes a 100 percent success rate in women’s basketball, golf, gymnastics and volleyball. Golf, football and wrestling topped the men’s report with success rates of 90, 83 and 82 percent, respectively.

Assistant Athletic Director Jennifer Kulics said the Kent State Athletic Department and the academic services department is thrilled over the graduation rates.

“We are very proud of our athletes,” Kulics said. “If our coaches understand that we have a high level of expectation and a tradition of academic excellence they will bring in athletes who can succeed. It’s the student’s responsibility, but without academic services they may not have been able to graduate.”

When the books are shut

School work is just one of many factors athletes face while on the road.

Studying is a task that must be fulfilled on the road, but it only makes up a small part of the potential problems teams are likely to face away from home.

While playing on the road is enjoyable to some, it is clearly not for everyone.

“I’d rather be home so I can’t say I really like anything about the road,” senior field hockey player Liz Fettrow said “It’s just that fact that it is not your home field and that you don’t have all your fans. The fans mean a lot.”

In fact, just getting home has been a problem in and of itself for some teams. Two particular stories stuck out in the mind of Karen Linder, Kent State softball coach.

“Last year when we were playing at a tournament at Florida State we had to be at the airport to come home at 4 a.m. for a 6 a.m. flight and our flight was canceled because a bird got in the propellers,” Linder said. “They didn’t get us out of there until later in the afternoon and they had to reroute us. Instead of going from Jacksonville to Atlanta back to Akron we had to go from Jacksonville to Atlanta to LaGuardia back to Akron. We got home at 12:30 the next morning.

“We’ve had buses that didn’t work. Last year at Western Michigan we got done playing a game and our bus wouldn’t start. We were stuck there for an extra three hours waiting on the bus to get fixed.”

Coaches are also facing a new problem with traveling. Players taking cell phones with them have become a possible distraction that coaches did not have to worry about 10 or more years ago.

Linder and golf coach Herb Page have both implemented rules that curve any potential problems.

“One of the things that we do is make the players turn their cell phones in at 11 p.m.,” Linder said. “They can’t make phone calls at 12, 12:30, or 1, etc. They are not talking to their friends or family or whoever and people can’t call them. I have no control over that when they are at home.”

Women’s basketball coach Bob Lindsay does not go as far as making his players turn over their phones, but he said he does ban cell phone use on team buses.

Rules such as cell phone regulation are meant to keep the players focused on the team’s ultimate goal – winning. Fitzpatrick said the added limitations have helped her stay focused more so than when she is at home.

“I think it’s easier to stay focused,” Fitzpatrick said. “When you are at home you have options, like we have a curfew but it is not really kept a close eye on. On the road it is you and a teammate in a hotel room so you are going to go to bed early get up and eat breakfast and stuff like that.”

Track and field coach Bill Lawson believes it’s the coach’s job to set the expectations to keep the athletes focused and to deal with those who aren’t prepared.

“It’s all about expectations,” Lawson said. “When we travel it comes down from the top. The expectations are set saying this is the reason why we are going on this trip.”

A positive of traveling so much is the team chemistry formed when there is no one else around but teammates to hang out with.

Because of this, Pacella said the team forms a bond that might not happen if they were home more.

“You get to hang out with your buddies in the hotel room and just bond with your teammates a little bit more,” Pacella said. “Sometimes guys have their own apartments so you don’t get to see them that often, but on the road everyone is together. We eat our meals together and we just have a good time. We enjoy playing on the road.”

Wiegand said he considers team friendship to be the best thing about the road. It’s something he doesn’t realize it until they are not around.

“The best thing about being on the road is being with my teammates,” Wiegand said. “They are awesome; I consider them family at school. There’s no better way to spend time on the road than with your teammates. I learned that this summer when I traveled by myself to different tournaments across the country.”

However, for a student athlete, there isn’t much time off from sports. As Lawson said, teams are there for a reason and it is not to take in the sights.

“The downtime is usually at the hotel after dinner,” Lawson said. “Kids are stretching or getting ice treatments and just relaxing and mentally preparing for the competition. It’s not like we are going to the beach or Disney or anything like that. I’m not a tour guide. We are there on business.”

Coach knows best

The Kent State track and field and softball teams often begin their seasons heading south or west to avoid the final parts of Ohio’s harsh winters.

Lawson, who led Kent State to a second place finish at the MAC Indoor Championships this past season, said he will head west this season to make sure his team will be able to prepare for the outdoor season properly.

“For four or five days we are going to Arizona for spring training in the beginning of spring when the weather can be very iffy,” Lawson said. “We are guaranteed to get five days of training in nice sunshine in Arizona. We usually select where we go based on overall competition, training venue and competition for each individual event.”

Linder, softball’s all-time wins leader in Kent State history, said the down side to being everybody’s guest is following their rules.

“Our routine does change,” Linder said. “The home team gets to decide what the time frame is for the pre-game. For example, some places have an open field, but don’t have batting cages available for the opposing team. We have to adjust our schedule to fit the time frames they have given us. You need to be flexible and be able to adjust to different situations.”

This season the softball team will be traveling twice to Florida and once to Hawaii. Last season started with scheduled stops at North Carolina and Florida.

Linder said she thinks that the Kent State softball team, which advanced to the NCAA Regional Semi Final last season, is helped by these trips.

“When you are on the road they are all together and they are all focused on achieving the same goal,” Linder said. “They are all at the same place at the same time. We go eat together; we are on the bus together you have control when they go to their rooms as far as curfew.

“When they are at home it’s harder to control where they are, or what time they are going to bed. On the road there are fewer distractions as far as being able to go places and do things and dealing with different people interrupting what they should be doing.”

However, sometimes being on the road is not the best thing for the athletes. Linder and Lawson both said even though it’s rare, if one of their players is having an especially hard time on the road, they have not hesitated to leave them behind.

“There have been times when I have let starters stay home from a non-conference game so they can attend class if they felt that they really needed to be in class,” Linder said. “It’s not something you want to do frequently but if there is a need we will do that. If we are professing that academics is our number one priority then I need to let them do what they need to do to be successful.”

The track and field team placed eight members on the All-MAC academic team this past season.

When it comes down to it, being on the road is necessary evil. Fitzpatrick said it is a small sacrifice when you look at all the positives that a sport gives an athlete.

“It pays for your school so that helps,” Fitzpatrick said. “It gives you an instant group of friends and if you love to play its fun for you.”

Contact sports reporter Tyler McIntosh at [email protected].