Local college athletes had a banner year in the classroom

Sunday, July 25, 2010 at 11:45pm

Brittany Thune couldn’t walk because she had to run.

A couple months ago she was forced to choose between participating in Belmont University’s graduation ceremonies and competing with the rest of the school’s women’s track team at the Atlantic Sun Conference meet. She opted for the track meet.

“That was OK because it was very important to me to be with my team,” Thune said.

It was one of the few times over the past four years that her academic and athletic responsibilities were in conflict. More often she managed to balance the two effectively on her way to a degree in business administration with a minor in political science, all with a 3.95 grade-point average.

With a recent cache of honors and awards, Thune was one of this year’s leading examples that the ideal of the student-athlete is alive and well at local universities, even those that compete at the highest level.

Lipscomb University, for example, claimed the Atlantic Sun’s All-Academic Trophy, which is based on the percentage of athletes who earn all-academic honors (a 3.0 or better GPA during the semester of competition). It was the first time Lipscomb won the award. Seven times in the previous eight years, the trophy went to Belmont.

“There’s a lot of really good academic institutions in our conference,” Lipscomb director of athletics Philip Hutcheson said. “We try to stress to our students that every thing you do matters — every test, every paper might provide that little boost you need. It’s really a great testament to a sustained effort throughout the year.”

More than 71 percent of Lipscomb’s student-athletes claimed all-academic recognition.

Additionally, the women’s basketball team was ninth in the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association 2009-10 Top 25 Honor Roll with a collective 3.452 GPA. The Lipscomb and Belmont volleyball teams both won a Team Academic Award from the American Volleyball Coaches Association.

“On the whole, we tried to stress that we don’t think being competitive in the classroom and being competitive on the court are mutually exclusive,” Hutcheson said. “We just don’t accept that you can’t be a really good student and a really good athlete at the same time. In fact, a lot of times those things complement each other.”

At Vanderbilt, cross-country runner Thomas Davis won an NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship and earned early acceptance into the university’s medical school. It was the second straight year a Vanderbilt runner won the $7,500 award from the NCAA.

The National Golf Coaches Association named Commodores junior Megan Grehan an All-American scholar for the third straight year.

Roughly a month ago, Thune capped off her academic awards haul when she was named a recipient of an NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship. That came in the wake of a third-team Academic All-America nod from ESPN The Magazine and the College Sports Information Directors of America, as well the Presidential Scholar-Athlete of the Year and Graduating Senior Academic Achievement awards from Belmont. The A-Sun honored her with its own postgraduate scholarship, its Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year recognition and its nomination for NCAA Woman of the Year.

“There were times I sat down and I would feel so overwhelmed with school and then with the added pressure of competing for a Division I team,” she said. “Those were the times I had to keep my head down and just get through it.