Jan. 9, 2014
The symbolism of the location of Montana's new athletics academic center, for which ground will be broken in early summer, isn't lost on either Director of Athletics Kent Haslam or Griz soccer coach Mark Plakorus.
By the fall of 2015 anyone arriving on campus via Sixth Street will be faced with the Adams Center -- and beyond that Washington-Grizzly Stadium -- and taking a spot of equal importance will be the new academic center.
"Putting it out front, right next to our main athletic complex, where everyone who drives onto campus can see it, shows the commitment we have to academic success," says Haslam, whose department student-athletes have maintained 17 straight semesters with a cumulative grade point average of 3.0 or better.
Plakorus, whose team has posted a term GPA of 3.19 or better in the six semesters he's been coaching the Grizzlies (all while winning a pair of Big Sky Conference championships), envisions the same type of scenario.
"When recruits and their parents come on campus, they'll see that not only do we talk about academics, but we put our money where our mouth is. We can show them the investment we're making in their education," he says.
"It really sends a strong message not only to recruits but their parents as well, because as much as we want to compete for championships and help develop them into better players, it's the degree they earn that is going to set them up for the rest of their lives."
That Montana has had 17 straight semesters above a 3.0 GPA is impressive enough. Adding to the degree of difficulty of that accomplishment was the state of the former academic center. Picture a cramped, underground space that began to feel crowded at a dozen and was located in one of the most academic-unfriendly environments on campus.
"It was tucked into a basement corner, right next to the football locker room, the weight room and the equipment room," Haslam says. "It was loud and it could be smelly. It just wasn't conducive to studying or learning."
Because room was needed for its new softball coaches, the department has been without an academic area since the start of the school year, and that further describes the woeful size of the former center (read: room). The in-house space previously devoted to the pursuit of academic success by hundreds is now serving as a modest space for two coaches.
The new facility, which provides space (and not to be overlooked: plenty of windows) not only for dozens of individuals at a time, but rooms for group study as well, comes at a cost of $2.5 million, all of which was privately raised.
The building will also have office space for the softball program and provide an extension of the Adams Center lobby to assist with crowd flow at larger events.
But most importantly it will provide a convenient, academics-focused location for Montana's nearly 300 student-athletes, most of whom, when they're not in class, base their days during the school year around the department's playing and practice facilities, weight room and training room.
"This won't be a posh place where our student-athletes go and get all their work done for them, and it's not an effort to separate them from the rest of the student body," Haslam says.
"Few people have the opportunity to see behind the scenes into what the life of a student-athlete is really like and the kind of demands they face. The new academic center is an effort to make sure we are providing them with one more tool that can help them be successful."
More upgrades are needed for the department, particularly to the weight room and locker rooms, but for now a new academic center is a great place to start.
"This is just the first step in the facility improvements that we have to make," Haslam says. "And I'm proud that the first one we're doing focuses on academics. I think it's a great investment.
"It makes a statement that at the University of Montana, `student' truly comes first in the term `student-athlete.' "
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