Being a student athlete at SF State is almost like something out of a spy novel — these young men and women live double lives, weaving in and out of a society that knows little about them and understands them even less.
“It’s definitely a challenge to be a student athlete,” said senior soccer player Andrew Chansky. “I think sometimes people don’t understand the challenges that come with it, but it’s also a big privilege as well.”
Those challenges include keeping up with classes, staying healthy on the road and trying to maintain a semblance of a social life.
“You have to be really organized,” said basketball player Kaylaa Davis. “It keeps you on your toes. You have to be eligible, you have to go to class or you don’t play.”
The coaches understand the demands of a college education and encourage their players to focus on school.
“Coaches make sure we put class as a priority,” Chansky said. “(The coach) likes to say, ‘It’s a student athlete, so you’re a student first, athlete second.’ They really put an importance on that.”
Most of them consider the relationship of student and athlete to be mutually beneficial.
“To be a better athlete you’ve got to be a good student. It works together,” said Ryan Woods, a cross country runner.
Although they receive support from coaches and teammates, the gap between the athletes and non-athletes seems to cause a large rift within the student body, with priority registration as the wedge between the two.
“A lot of other students are pretty furious about that,” said Lindsay Enright, a sophomore on the cross country and track teams. “I understand where they’re coming from, but I also feel like they’re naive in the sense that they don’t know how much time we take out of it.”
Priority registration is an incentive to keep playing, athletes said. Without it, they wouldn’t be able to plan their schedules around practice. The schedule is just the beginning, however.
Athletes have mandatory team study hours while they’re at home but they all have different ways of dealing with homework while on the road. Some choose to power through and finish it all before leaving, others leave it for when they return home, and some find snippets of time to work before games or at night.
“I think it’s all about balance,” Enright said. “Sometimes you’re too much of a student and you’re not giving enough to your coaches or you’re giving too much to your coaches and not enough in your classes.”
With keeping up with classes, focusing on games and honing skills in practice it can be a wonder they find time to sleep at all. Thomas Wood, an outfielder on the baseball team, said sleep always finds them.
“The last thing you do want to do when you get home is try to study for a test or read. You sit down on your bed to do it and you’re instantly asleep,” Wood said.
Head trainer Bryce Schussel said he definitely sees more illnesses as a result of travel. “They’re in tight quarters, they’re sleeping in hotel rooms, and sometimes they don’t get enough sleep,” Schussel said.
Schussel said that colds and other sicknesses are common because sometimes it is hard for the players to get the proper nutrition and stay hydrated.
“I know other girls tend to get sick a lot during the season,” said Jenna Robertson, softball player. “When you’re really tired from all day generally you lay your head down on the pillow and you’re out,” she said, snapping her fingers for emphasis.
Joe Danahey, director of sports information, sees all of the problems they face, day in and day out.
“People don’t realize with these guys, they’re all working too,” Danahey said. “They’re not just involved in their sport. They work for me, they’re at every game, they’re supporting the other teams. All of our athletes support each other. Our student athletes are a special breed here. They care about each other.”
It’s good that they have a built-in family on campus, because their schedules don’t leave any time for a more typical college lifestyle.
“We can’t go out and party, we can’t be a normal college student and stay up late,” said cross country runner Woods. “We can’t be tempted with all that stuff. That’s probably the hardest part. We’re not normal people.”