Bearcat Baseball: Where academics and teamwork come first

A look at a university whose core values—academic achievement, sportsmanship, fair play, and teamwork—form the adhesive that bonds intercollegiate baseball teammates and the momentum that propels them to new heights.
James E. Samels is president and CEO of The Education Alliance and Senior Partner in the law firm of Samels Associates.

This month, we travel to Upstate South Carolina and encounter a campus that boasts a team where players, coaches, and senior athletic leadership come together to launch successful careers in Business, Industry, Medicine, Law, and Civic sectors across the Nation.

Founded in 1872 as a small, Methodist, Women’s College, Lander opted to go coed in 1943 and over time, has grown to over 3,300 students. The new Lander University is bucking national trends as it substantially grows enrollment while bolstering its regional and national rankings. These rankings target distinctive academic assets and competitive strengths—Best Value and Social Mobility.

Dugout conversation

Even with its contemporary sports complex, the Lander campus is small enough to put your arms around (small classes) and big enough to make a significant economic impact in Upstate South Carolina.

With this background in mind, Lander invited us to hear directly from the Bearcat Baseball Team student-athletes. Let’s listen in on our virtual dugout conversation.

“Everything we do as it relates to academic success for our student-athletes is done intentionally and implemented with a specific purpose—from identifying first-generation student-athletes and providing key support to them to hiring head coaches and staff members whose number one priority is academic success,” said Director of Athletics Brian Reese. “One thing that we do very well here at Lander is to optimize every chance to be successful academically. What we do as it relates to academic accountability has had a positive impact on our student-athlete retention and their overall development.”

Marshall Thompson, Lander Class of 2020, shared this learning and athletic experience. “Both coaches and professors have given their time to ensure competitive athletics, quality academics, and a superb college experience,” he said.

“Lander University enabled me to work as an analyst for a brokerage firm just outside New York City said recent Lander graduate Vinny Addona. “From time management to relationship development, Lander has allowed me to bloom into the young professional that I am today.”

Randy Carlson, president of East Coast Baseball Academy and a 2003 Lander graduate, provided this reflection: “The lessons I learned in the classroom and on the baseball field at Lander put me in a position to be successful in both the baseball and business world. Being immersed in a challenging educational environment as well as being a part of a baseball program that I consider a ‘leadership laboratory’ is the reason that I am where I am today.”

Bearcat Baseball Coach, Jason Burke, put it this way: “Leaving Lander, the students will be set up to excel in their field of study. The faculty and staff here are truly amazing instructors and people that work together to push the development of the entire person. It is a collective effort to ensure that they leave Lander with every tool necessary to not only succeed but be a leader amongst their peers.”

David Slimmer, Dean of the College of Science and Mathematics, provided this faculty viewpoint: “Our student-athletes tend to be positive-influencers in class and are well disciplined and attentive to instructors. They present themselves well to faculty and other students, and they work well with others. I believe the academic success that our student-athletes have is directly related to the fact that the entire athletic department stresses an ‘academics come first’ attitude.”

Unfortunately, both higher ed and sports have come under recent public scrutiny with the college admissions scandal, the proliferation of performance-enhancing drugs, and the athletic recruitment violations – even at the middle school level.

In the wake of this kind of bad news, it feels refreshing to have the ability to turn to a good news story about America’s National Pastime—baseball.

Bearcat student-athletes more than hold their own when compared to their non-athlete peers.
Anyone who doubts the importance of academics for Bearcat athletes is likely unaware of their numbers, and the numbers don’t lie. Scores of student-athletes have earned honors program recognition: 97% Baseball retention rates, 3.2 GPA, career engagement, and social mobility.

Our virtual campus tour has demonstrated that Lander teammates shatter the myth that student-athletes are athletes first while academics are allowed to fall to the wayside. At Lander, baseball team members seriously commit themselves to high academic aspirations.

At the end of the day, we remember the adage of baseball expert and author Charles R. Sledge, Jr., who said, “Athletes are born winners, they’re not born losers, and the sooner you understand this, the faster you can take on a winning attitude and become successful in life.”

James E. Samels is president and CEO of The Education Alliance and Senior Partner in the law firm of Samels Associates, Attorneys at Law


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