It's now November and we're in the stretch run of the 2003 football season, with basketball on the horizon. It's always an exciting time of the year, what with the traditional late-season rivalries on the schedule, a time of unpredictable weather and a chance to look forward to the year to come.
In the Thornton Center, Ruth Darling and her more-than-capable staff are celebrating 2003 and looking to the spring semester 2004. That all brings us to the fourth of the five "core values" I identified and emphasized when I took the AD job in May.
Core Value #4: Graduating Student-Athletes.
Every day, it is important that we stress the student side of the "student-athlete" equation. The "student" part comes first because that's why we exist as a university. There is nothing more important than seeing a significant number of our student-athletes, men's and women's, not only achieving in the classroom, but also graduating each semester.
Dr. Darling reported the other day that we see a gradual increase in GPAs across all of our teams. We believe this is indicative of an increased focus on academics and support services the Thornton Center brings to each of our departments.
As an example, if you look on p. 18 of this magazine, you'll find the names of 196 members of the Thornton Center Honor Roll, honored for having a 3.0 GPA or better in spring semester 2003. We're proud of what they accomplished.
One of the reasons we built the Thornton Athletics Student Life Center was to provide our student-athletes the best opportunity to succeed in the classroom, much the same way we provide the best facilities in which to train and compete. We want to be successful in both areas.
Our CHAMPS/Life Skills Program emphasizes commitments to excellence not only in academics and athletics, but also in personal development, career development and community service to help our student-athletes develop personally and socially, increasing their opportunities for success in life beyond sport.
This year, the CHAMPS Program has offered the following opportunities for the male student-athletes: a speaker dealing with sports and gambling; a student-athlete career fair; the Student-Athlete Advisory Board (SAAC) Leadership Retreat; team talks on media training, nutrition and mental toughness; and 18 community service events. The CHAMPS program staff also made an educational video for the men's athletic teams addressing supplements and illegal drugs. In the spring, the CHAMPS Program will offer more team talks and community service events, as well as training that addresses sexual assault. We are also in the process of applying for a $30,000 CHOICES grant from the NCAA for alcohol education on campus.
You can see there's a great deal going on at the Thornton Center on a daily basis, all geared to providing our student-athletes with the best opportunity to succeed. I am impressed each time I go over there with the commitment of the staff and the many ways student-athletes are helped with their overall personal and academic development. We appreciate continued support of our donors in funding the operation of the building.
Our Athletic Department Mission Statement puts all of this in proper perspective.
The mission of the University of Tennessee Men's and Women's Department of Intercollegiate Athletics is to provide opportunities for participation in intercollegiate athletics in an environment that encourages the achievement of athletic excellence and good sportsmanship. We are committed to maintaining a proper balance between participation in athletics and the educational and social life common to all students. Within this environment we seek to enhance opportunities for intercollegiate athletic competition, foster pursuit of academic excellence, support and encourage the achievement of individual and team championship performance, and to be a source of pride for the University's students, alumni/alumnae and supporters. The mission of the Departments is and shall always remain compatible with the mission of the University.
I hope you are as proud of the outstanding contributions our student-athletes make in the classroom and in the community as I am.
The University of Tennessee is still a place where all kinds of good things are happening, and our goal as a Department is to make our contributions in the classrooms and on the playing field.
Expect to win!