SAINT LEO, Fla. - Don't be alarmed if there are a couple extra coaches on the women's basketball bench during many of their upcoming home contests. Throughout their season, the Lions plan on gaining and losing a couple coaches, but it's nothing to worry about. Why? This year, the Women's Basketball team will put their Honorary Coaches program into effect, and professors and faculty will be new additions to the coaching roster, at least for a half or two.
It is well-known that NCAA Division II Athletic programs often pride themselves on producing qualified student-athletes, with the emphasis placed on the term "student." With CoSIDA Academic All-America recognitions, President's Club awards, All-Academic honors and additional awards and acknowledgements, Division II student-athletes across the nation are stepping up to the plate when it comes to their academic efforts.
As a strong Division II contender in the Sunshine State Conference, Saint Leo University plans to continue with its tradition of producing well rounded and academically strong student-athletes this year, just as they have in the past. However, this year will be a little different. How? The Women's Basketball Team plans to use their 2011-2012 season to recognize special Saint Leo professors and faculty members for their performance in the classroom and across campus.
So there's a few extra people on the sideline and in the locker room, what's the big deal? Both Head Coach Nikki Jessee and Assistant Coach Jessica Cooley agree that incorporating honorary coaches into their game will strengthen the player's experience in the classroom as well as help to bring the Saint Leo community closer together. "It's been a great way for academics to merge with athletics," says Jessee. "Our players get to see their professors away from the classroom, and vice versa. The professors get a chance to see what being a collegiate athlete is all about."
Thanks to this new program, each Lions home game will feature one or two "honorary coaches" that women's basketball players have chosen from their experience in the classroom. Instead of just Jessee and Cooley on the sideline and in the locker room before the game and during halftime, players will also be surrounded and "coached" by members of Saint Leo's professional staff whom they see in their classes as well as around campus.
Although the Honorary Coaching program may seem all about the idea of fostering the Saint Leo core value of excellence in the classroom and on the court, Jessee and Cooley believe that incorporating this fun piece into their home schedule goes deeper than that. In fact, as first year coaches at Saint Leo, they're already making strides so that their players can excel on and off the court. "It's great that our student-athletes can interact outside the classroom with professors they respect," says Cooley, while Jessee adds, "I think our Honorary Coach program is helping to bring our Saint Leo University community together even tighter."
The Lions Honorary Coaching program will feature many professors and faculty members throughout the sixteen home games of their regular season. So far, the list includes staff members such as Professors Paul McCuistion and Bruce Wertheimer, Associate Professor of Accounting Daniel Tschopp, and Assistant to the President David Persky, just to name a few.
Story by junior softball player Katie Gwinn.