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#TGW: The Finals Countdown

Dec. 8, 2017

Georgia Tech student-athletes face a lot of “tests” during their years on The Flats.

Be they on the gridiron, the diamond, the court, the track or the pool, these “tests” are big enough in the college sports world to create national headlines.

Yet, these headline-grabbers don’t even make a ripple in the real-world.

They certainly don’t compare to the very real tests that have taken over Georgia Tech this week, even if they don’t take place in state-of-the-art arenas, with bands and cheerleaders and in front of loud, sometimes even hostile crowds.

The results of these tests will never be known by the public but are well-known by the student-athletes and it matters, more than anything.

“Our coaches always have us put our academics before our sport,” said women’s basketball senior point guard Imani Tilford. “I would say finals week is not easy. It’s very hard.”

“Those finals are really draining,” said men’s basketball forward Josh Okogie. “I’ve only got a couple of essays due. Luckily I’m not in a cast because I had essays due when I was in a cast. I got better at one-hand typing. But I’m doing pretty well in all my classes.”

That’s the good word — and really the only acceptable one — for coaches and academic advisors, whose goals are to have the student-athletes perform this week like they would during any other week.

“Academics matter. Our finals are tough, our academics are tough,” said first-year softball coach Aileen Morales, who starred at Tech from 2005-09, earning three second-team academic all-district honors, and was an assistant coach from 2010-12. “At Georgia Tech I think there’s a higher level of focus and commitment to finishing the academic term out strong. As a coach, you’re always anxiously waiting those grade reports the week after finals because you want to know. You’re hoping that everyone did well.”

At Georgia Tech, student-athletes in just about every sport are.

According to last year’s NCAA Graduation Success Rate (GSR), the Institute put up an all-time best 87 percent. It was the fourth year in a row Tech’s GSR went up. 10 of Tech’s sports had GSRs above the national average of 84-percent and five sports had a perfect 100 GSR.

That team effort extends to the athletic administration, which supplies extensive academic help — each sport has at least one assistant director and a coordinator. This week the staff works overtime and feels a lot of the same stress.

“It’s pretty stressful,” said assistant director of academic services Amanda Brown, in her sixth year at Georgia Tech, who experienced the stress of a student-athlete at an elite academic institution, having played basketball at Bucknell from 2005-09. “We’re just making sure the kids are prepared and that we’ve done everything we possibly can to get them ready for their finals. Whether that’s reminding them, setting up tutoring sessions, making sure they’re having a study hall, that they have all their notes and all their old exams and quizzes, all their material collected and have that stuff ready. It’s a very stressful time for us.

“Our main responsibility as assistant director and academic coordinator is to help them utilize all the resources that are available to allow them to succeed in the classroom,” Brown added. “Whether that’s finding campus resources as far as tutoring, having them meet with a professor to help them build a relationship with a professor, we also help them with tutoring through our department. We have a student-coordinator who goes through a very extensive training program with compliance to make sure that our tutors are certified and are allowed to help our student-athletes, and also setting up the study hall structure. That’s probably the biggest thing is the study hall. Especially when you’re in-season, you’re traveling a lot. A lot of us travel with the team so that we’re conducting study hall on the road so they’re not missing a beat and making sure they’re staying on top of their work.”

“Our academic department does a great job allotting us time and making time for us during the road trips to be locked in,” said Okogie. “We even had study hall on the way (to Wednesday night’s game at Wofford) so there’s a lot of time for us to get what we’ve got going on.”

All this academic support on the team bus and the extra days of study time around campus are nice compared to the days Morales remembers from her all-nighters.

“It’s a little different now from when I had finals because we had them it was basically Monday through Friday, where you had basically one week where you were stressed out a whole lot and ran on a lot of caffeine and not a lot of sleep,” she said. “I recall a time where my teammates and I stayed up pretty late in the dorm studying. It was like 3 or 4 in the morning and we were like, ‘We’re hungry.’ So we took our studies, all our books and everything, down to Waffle House on Howell Mill. I remember having a study session in that Waffle House until about 6 in the morning.”

“What’s nice now is they kind of have the weekend to kind of brace it up,” she added. “They have Thursday and Friday and then they have the weekend, which I think is a great idea because it kind of allows the students that have a bunch of finals a couple of days to kind of refresh and be able to be prepared on Monday and finish strong the last couple of days. Just the way it’s set up now is a better format for them to be successful because it is a busy time.”

Athletic facilities will not be busy this week until Sunday afternoon, when women’s basketball hosts UT-Arlington at McCamish Pavilion.

It’s another “test” but is one that the team welcomes, especially after the ones the players took this week. Fortune certainly can’t wait.

“When you’re finally done with everything for school it’s a certain look. You’re so tired mentally but you’re so relieved,” said junior forward Martine Fortune, a member of the 2016-17 ACC academic honor roll. “I actually wrap up the Monday after but it’s just a paper so I plan to have it done before the game. I’ll have that relieved look.”

Getting the student-athletes to that relieved look is what puts a smile on the faces of the academic advisors.

“I think that’s why a lot of us take on that job,” said Brown. “Our student-athletes know they’re going to be challenged and they look forward to that as much as we do. At Georgia Tech there’s nowhere we can hide. They’re taking very, very hard classes and difficult programs, programs that are ranked top 10, top 20 so we know that we’ve got to be very creative in how we’re going to support them. We have student-athletes who want that challenge. They’re going to listen to us; they’ve bought into our system. They want support and they want that help and they want to do well. We’re all up for that challenge.”


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