College athletics programs are often the topic of conversation in the news, with students, parents, and even fans questioning the role sports should play in receiving a college education.
For an NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) school, like Shawnee State University, the value of athletics and its impact on students is clear — and goes far beyond enhancing college life and connecting the university to the community. These are two extremely worthwhile benefits, of course. Data show us, for instance, that having a robust athletics program impacts student satisfaction among non-athletes who want to be a part of a school where they can attend sporting events and have avenues to display school spirit. We also know from our growing number of fans that our SSU Bears also provide important ways for the community to get to know us and to engage with our students.
The primary value of our athletics programs, however, is helping students accomplish their life goals. Our student-athletes are students first. They want to earn degrees that prepare them for rewarding careers. They also have a passion for athletics and want to continue to compete outside of the classroom in their chosen sport while earning their degrees. Shawnee State can provide them with that opportunity. Combine that with affordable tuition and athletic scholarships that are helping to make college possible, and you’re talking about changing someone’s life and providing a better future.
That’s what is happening with our student-athletes. Our student success data show that student-athletes at Shawnee State are committed to their education and are more likely to stay in school and successfully reach graduation.
Helping more students earn their degrees is the reason we’ve expanded athletics – and athletic scholarships – in the past couple of years. Last fall, we added four varsity teams — men’s and women’s indoor track & field, women’s golf and men’s tennis — providing opportunities for 36 additional student-athletes. This fall, we added men’s and women’s bowling, welcoming another 25 student-athletes to campus. Next fall, we plan to welcome 12-15 more as part of our co-ed archery team and an additional 8 as we add e-sports (a nice tie-in with our nationally-ranked game design programs). We’re not stopping there. In fall 2019 we will add men’s and women’s swimming with the potential for 20 new student athletes.
Along with the expansion of teams, we are in the middle of renovating our athletics facilities, including the Warsaw Natatorium, to accommodate growth. We have also entered partnerships throughout the community to help expand our teams. We share facilities with Portsmouth City Schools where our new track & field teams practice and compete, and Sunset Bowling Lanes has become home to SSU Bowling. We have long-standing partnerships with the City of Portsmouth for use of Branch Rickey Park, county commissioners for use of Earl Thomas Conley Park, and West Little League for use of Dr. Singleton Park — and we appreciate everyone in the community for supporting Shawnee State Athletics, and most importantly, our students.
As we continue to expand, I hope we’ll see even more fans at our events supporting our students’ success on – and off – the court, field, track, block, pool, lane, or even computer game console.