Salute to scholar-athletes

Posted: July 06, 2013

By Alice P. Gast

There are few experiences more exciting and rewarding for a college or university president than watching your graduates being selected in the National Basketball Association draft.

It was truly inspiring to see Lehigh University's C.J. McCollum and Bucknell University's Mike Muscala chosen from among the most accomplished college basketball players in the United States. Both have led their teams to Patriot League conference titles and NCAA tournaments. Both also graduated with their classes this spring, achieving academic success and displaying exemplary leadership on their campuses.

It was a thrilling NBA draft for those who have watched these athletes play, and a source of pride for all Patriot League fans. We can and do compete at the highest levels. That is why we compete in NCAA Division I athletics. This is also why we compete at the highest levels in what we value as a league, and what we want athletic competition to mean to the student-athletes.

As proud as we are of these two draftees, my fellow Patriot League presidents and I do not expect to have pro-sports draft choices every year. Rather, we celebrate the qualities that athletes from our institutions take into the world with them, many as first-round choices of business or engineering firms, educational organizations, or graduate and professional schools.

Too often, when intercollegiate athletics are under scrutiny and the student-athlete is thought to be a thing of the past, we fail to recognize the great benefits of the athletic experience that builds the character, discipline, values and leadership capabilities that the world so greatly needs.

The Patriot League is approaching its 25th year as an all-sport conference. Member institutions - American, Army, Boston U., Bucknell, Colgate, Holy Cross, Lafayette, Lehigh, Loyola (Md.), and Navy - place great value on mentoring, coaching, and teaching our student-athletes. We know that they are students first. We also know that students are successful because intercollegiate athletics were an important part of their educational experiences. In addition to their rigorous and demanding academic work, they gain incredible leadership skills that they display on the court, in the classroom, and throughout life. We have made student leadership a high priority, and it shows.

College and university presidents have a lot to celebrate in every season, and especially at commencement when we see our players graduate and go on to test these leadership skills in new arenas. Every year, Patriot League student-athletes are named to Academic All-America teams, place among leaders on the NCAA's annual graduation-rate report, and pursue further study as prestigious Truman, Marshall, or Rhodes Scholars. This year was no different, with the recent NBA draft results being a bonus.

These graduates go far. We were excited when former Lehigh football player Rob Riley took a starring role in a play on Broadway. We are awed by our nation's newest astronaut candidates, among them two Patriot League alumnae: Navy soccer alumna Nicole Aunapu Mann, who is an FA-18 pilot, and Army softball star Maj. Anne McClain, who is a helicopter pilot. These women take the Patriot League to new frontiers. They will change the world, and so will former Lehigh soccer player Ben Gucciardi as his influential and successful service organization, Soccer Without Borders, comes to prominence in changing the lives of youths around the world.

Here's to the scholar-athlete and to the way collegiate sports build leaders. Drafted into the NBA or serving our nation in other careers, we can't wait to see what they do next.

Alice P. Gast is president of Lehigh University and former chair of the Patriot League Council of Presidents. E-mail her at

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