Coach Carr works to strengthen players’ grades and eligibility

Amanda Vasil

Freshman Ryan Nawrocki struggles against an Illinois player for the puck at the game Saturday, Nov. 19. Kent State lost to Illinois 2-7.

Credit: Steve Schirra

Eight hours of practice.

Four hours of study tables.

Two weekend games.

A season from August to March.

This may sound like any regular varsity sport at Kent State, but actually this describes the life of a Kent State club ice hockey player.

Ice hockey has been a club sport at Kent State since 1993 when it was cut as a varsity sport. The most difficult aspect of the change has been the image ice hockey has received, coach Curtis Carr said.

“A lot of people think because it’s a club, it’s just a bunch of guys who get together and play,” he said. “They really don’t understand the caliber and where these guys have come from. We have guys that come from the highest levels of junior hockey to play here with a lot of commitment.”

Carr, who is in his third year of coaching at Kent State, has seen the program change multiple times over the past few years. Since he took over the position of head coach two years ago, Carr has worked to change the image of the team.

The largest obstacle Carr has faced while working through this transition period is academics. He has launched various programs to help struggling athletes with their academics. Although this has not been a popular change, Carr said it’s helping to strengthen the team.

“Grades usually become an issue at this school,” he said. “A lot of reasons that we have a young team is that we’re trying to change the culture and make academics first. We care more about how they conduct themselves off the ice than they do on the ice, which is why some of the older guys are no longer around.”

The study table program has been the most successful way of encouraging higher academics. The team attends weekly study tables in the library for two hours a night, twice a week after most classes have ended for the day. This gives players an opportunity to catch up on reading and prepare for upcoming exams and quizzes.

The only players who are exempt from attending the study tables are juniors and seniors who have a 2.7 GPA or higher. Carr said he exempts these players because they have shown that they can perform well in the classroom and have become positive academic role models.

Despite this exemption, many of the upperclassmen have chosen to attend the study tables, showing Carr dedication to their academics and to the team.

“It really reinforces the importance of schoolwork and shows that even though they’re being successful in school and don’t have to be there, they are there to study and make sure they continue their success,” Carr said. “It shows the younger guys that school is not just something you do in class. It requires more effort than that.”

Senior forward Brett Kendig said having the study tables helps the younger players adjust to college life, as well as gives them time to dedicate to schoolwork. Kendig said he wishes the program would have been instituted when he first started playing because it would have helped his grades as a first- and second-year student. He said it can be difficult finding motivation to do schoolwork with the many distractions of living with friends and teammates.

Carr recognizes that being successful also includes work done inside the classroom. To monitor how the players are performing in classes, he began sending out bi-monthly grade sheets for players to bring to their professors. Professors write the player’s grade and sign their names before the player brings it back to Carr. If the grades indicate that a player is struggling, he won’t play until he brings his grades up.

From what he’s seen so far, Carr said he thinks the program is working well.

“In the past, we’ve usually lost on average about five guys at the break because of eligibility issues, and right now with our 14 freshmen, there is not one guy who’s in jeopardy of not being able to play next semester,” he said.

With 14 freshmen, the team has been working especially hard to build chemistry both on and off the ice. Freshman Nick Robillard said many of the players spend time together watching football or playing wiffleball. Most of the players also live together both on and off campus, he said.

Ultimately, the success of the team is up to the players, Carr said. For now, the team will continue focusing on having a successful season and trying to make it to the national tournament in March.

Contact sports reporter Amanda Vasil at [email protected].