Making the gr‘A’de

Student-athletes juggle competition and classwork

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Class from 8 to 11:45 a.m., lunch, class from 1 to 3:30 p.m., practice from 4 to 6 p.m., one night class, two papers due in less than a week, a major exam in two days, and a weekend road trip for two games in Massachusetts on Friday and Saturday evening await. 

That means leaving RIT on Thursday for that road trip, which means four missed classes, that must be made up. 

Partying? Not really. Social life? Quick bite to eat and then homework with teammates or fellow students in said major. Sleep? Optional.


It’s just another week in the life of soccer standout Bret Dietz, basketball team captain Leslie Havens, baseball team captain Justin Smith, or any one of RIT’s 650 student-athletes in more than 24 sports during their respective seasons, juggling the rigors of RIT’s demanding class schedule and arduous athletic commitment.

The Tigers athletic program is one of the best in the Northeast region, with several teams and athletes earning regional and national recognition. Over the past decade, grade-point averages among the RIT student-athletes have steadily risen. In 2009-2010, RIT’s student-athletes combined for a 3.2 GPA, well above the general student population and its best in program history. ESPN Hockey commentator Barry Melrose even jokingly proclaimed on national television, “You have to be a genius to go to RIT,” during men’s hockey’s memorable run to the Frozen Four a year ago.

“Over the years, we have been fortunate to attract better students in our athletics programs, who are very motivated in both the classroom and playing field,” says Lou Spiotti Jr., director for the Center of Intercollegiate Athletics and Recreation. “Our coaching and leadership team plays a key role in our success in the classroom by mentoring our athletes and acknowledging their success.”

Lex Sleeman, associate director for compliance, and Marty Gordon, associate professor for manufacturing and mechanical engineering technology/packaging science in the College of Applied Science and Technology and faculty athletics representative, monitor all of RIT’s 650 athletes’ grades and are in contact with student advisors. 

“A lot of our student-athletes feel bad and are apologetic about missing classes,” says Gordon. “The RIT policy states that student-athletes should be allowed to make up work missed. Our faculty support is great, and along with our coaches, Lex, and other athletic administrators, they do a great job mentoring and are extremely cognizant that they are student-athletes.”

Dietz, a fourth-year civil engineering technology major and four-year member of the soccer team, enjoyed success on the field as a three-year captain, earning All-Empire 8 conference accolades three times. That pales in comparison to his academic standing, with a 3.79 GPA that helped earn him three CoSIDA/ESPN The Magazine Academic All-Region selections.

“It’s better to stay busy, because there is less of a chance to mess around, and stay focused (on  schoolwork),” says Dietz. “Even when out of season, I keep a schedule, work in the athletic department and stay on top of things. In season, professors are very understanding, as long as you give enough notice and stay on top of things.”

“When I’m not in class, at work, practice, eating or sleeping, chances are I’m doing school work,” says Kimi Sisti, third-year graphic design major who boasts a 3.93 GPA while playing soccer in the fall and lacrosse in the spring.  

There is also the travel. Every team has at least one overnight trip during its season, with some teams playing on the road during the week, which could also cause them to miss a few classes. No team at RIT travels nearly as much as the Division I men’s hockey team, which takes a whopping nine overnight trips during the regular season and covers more than 5,200 miles of land, either by bus or plane, to the East Coast or Rust Belt, or through America’s heartland—rain, snow or shine.

“I try to treat bus trips and staying in hotels like I’m in class, studying or catching up on work missed by not  being there,” says third-year accounting major and men’s hockey player Mark Cornacchia, winner of the 2010 NCAA Elite 88 award for Academic Excellence, with a 3.85 GPA. “It takes a little extra effort because of the distractions (on the bus), but you learn how to be more efficient with your time.”