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IS THERE A SCIENCE TO NURTURING

SCHOOL SPIRIT? WRITER: Gayle Romasanta

EMAIL:collegelife@mercedsun-star.com

WHEN ASKED ABOUT HOW TO NURTURE SCHOOL SPIRIT, Merced College Athletic Director

Steve Cassady and UC Merced Director of Recreation and Athletics David Dunham both answered, “by winning.” Winning is a no brainer, but there’s more to it than a talented team of student athletes. It’s a balancing act for schools to not just have successful athletic teams, but to also create the best learning environment for students; those enrolled in courses within each school’s athletic department or a student athlete. Cassady was a faculty member in Merced College’s humanities department for 20 years before he was athletic director. Cassady

PHONE: (415) 794-3975

believes the science behind winning teams is quality level of engagement with students and having those students follow through with matriculation. “Athletes matriculate at a higher rate than the general student,” Cassady says. “State statistics demonstrate that student-athletes at Merced College matriculate at twice the number in half the time as the state averages.” One of the reasons students do better overall is that they must pass to play. “In order to play, they have to have the grades,” Cassady says. Student athletes at Merced College must be enrolled in at least 12 units a semester with a 2.0 grade point average. “From the start, a student athlete’s mission to succeed in sports is relevant to their success,” Cassady says. “Where else in the system is competition actually taught. Where else do they learn drive, focus, and sense of team — along with values and personal growth — we teach those things, “ he adds. With many years as an educator and sports writer, Cassady has known many athletes whose athletic careers began at a community college. One such person is legendary former Superbowl-winning NFL quarterback and former Superbowl-winning Raiders head coach, Tom Flores. Flores is one of two people in the NFL to win both a Superbowl as a player and head coach. “How many stories are out there — where the community college is the transition between nowhere and somewhere?” Cassady says. “Millions.” Dunham, UC Merced’s director of recreation and athletics since July 2005, also believes in successful students and a successful program. Starting out as an office of one, he now has a staff of over 30. With the new UC Merced student athletic center (opened in 2012), services have expanded. The new center has doubled the weight and cardio space and student organizations have access to four multipurpose rooms. The reach of UC Merced’s recreation and athletics program is also community-wide, not just for friends or family members of student athletes. “People tend to rally around athletics,” Dunham says. “We focus ////SEE PAGE40

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