By CANDACE MARTINO
There comes a time when an athlete’s lofty high school sports careers come to an end and they are left imagining what could have been. There are no more bus trips down the road to play the biggest rival under the Friday night lights, no more oranges at halftime, not even pep rallies to get you fired up for tomorrow’s homecoming game. In fact, that’s the situation for about 95 percent of former high school athletes who don’t continue on to play a college sport.
From the outside looking in, the lifestyle of a collegiate athlete appears to be similar to that of the rich and famous. It seems that everything is just about free, from tuition to unlimited team issued gear, and if you need someone to hold your hand for all four years, well that certainly can be arranged. Life as a college athlete seems to be a cakewalk for most.
Senior Allee Steleoganis on the women’s volleyball team is fortunate enough to be in the position that she is in, getting ready to lace up for her fourth and final preseason. She’s earned a full scholarship to UT for all four years, and many would love to be in her shoes. But what really does it feel like being a student-athlete?
“Being a student-athlete is a privilege,” Steleoganis said. “It’s something that very few people can say they’ve been apart of when it comes to being on a team. But, [with it] comes a lot of sacrifices and commitments that many people don’t realize.”
As the majority of the student body has the full length of summer break, Steleoganis has already made her way back to campus before classes start where the volleyball team is practicing twice a day to prepare for the official start of season. Even though the volleyball season ends in the month of December (if your team is lucky enough to go that deep into playoffs), workouts start right back up about two weeks later. For her and her teammates, waking up before the sunrise just to practice and to hit the weight room, then walking to class with ice bags taped to every inch of their body seems to be the everyday norm.
“Ice is our best friend, especially during preseason!” Steleoganis said. “Usually after every practice everyone heads to the training room and if they have class then they’ll just have to get ice wrapped on them to-go and waddle to class with it.Sometimes I catch people staring at me like I have nine eyes, but I’d rather get the looks than have bad knees.”
If you are a student-athlete, dressed from head-to-toe in UT athletic gear isn’t always your preferred choice, and it doesn’t make it any easier to tell whether or not you’re having a bad day. Many of your classmates don’t tend to think so because they too have classes, work and studying to do. Though, what your classmates don’t understand is that you very rarely get the opportunity to sleep in past 8 a.m., you can’t skip your classes because that just might be the day the coaching staff does class checks and if you’re thinking about sitting in the back of the classroom to catch up on sleep, forget it. It’s a team rule to be in the first three rows. No matter what athletic team you are on, your every move is being magnified because you’re a centerpiece of the university’s brand.
“The team is told to sit in the front rows,” said Miranda Gonzalez, a junior on the women’s soccer team. “[Head coach Erin Switalski] or [assistant coach Brittan Spence] come in and do random class checks to ensure that everyone went to class on time. If certain athletes are having problems with grades they are required to do extra study hall, and some are even required to get professors to sign attendance sheet to make sure they go to class and stay the entire time.”
The rumors of student-athletes being exempt from responsibilities couldn’t be the farther from the truth. Not only do college athletes have to make sure they are abiding by the team rules, they are responsible for holding each and everyone of their teammates accountable. Yes, that’s right. If someone is late for practice you better believe there will be running involved. If your teammate misses classes ‘Get on the end-line,’ is something student-athletes know all too well. It is an endless cycle of finding a balance of being a student and an athlete.
“I am extremely thankful that I have the opportunity to be a student-athlete,” Gonzalez said. “This journey has taught me so much about myself and what I can overcome on-and-off the field and in the classroom. I’ve got to meet some of my best friends from being on a team. I think there are times when it got tough and I questioned whether or not I made the right choice, but at the end of the day I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
When it’s all said and done, being a student-athlete is a special privilege that each of these athletes are very grateful to have. With anything great comes sacrifice, and the exhilarating feel of holding a conference championship trophy up at the end of the season is why these college athletes wouldn’t change a thing.