By Ryan Ward
Living life as a student athlete can be a balancing act.
Prioritizing classes, work and socializing is a skill in itself. With a high performance sports schedule thrown on top of that, some student athletes can end up academically ineligible. Ryerson’s athletes are no stranger to the daily struggles of organization and time management.
Ryerson Rams athletes are academically ineligible if their GPA falls below the 1.67 mark or if they are not enrolled in at least three courses. If this happens, they cannot play for their team.
Last year, the men’s soccer team had to forfeit their first six games of the season after a player was caught playing games while ineligible. This led to the team grabbing a lower seed in the regular season, making it harder for them to proceed in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) playoffs.
“If I kept going the way I was, I wasn’t going to be successful”
All of the work that goes on behind the scenes of university athletics doesn’t make the headlines, but is just as important as the numbers on the stat sheet. One of the biggest factors of coping is learning to win the race against time and academic disappointment.
Someone who is all too familiar with how to manage limited time is Alex Basso, veteran defenceman and captain of the Rams men’s hockey team.
As the team was preparing for another playoff run, he has had even more to focus on off the ice while pursuing a Masters of business administration.
“I have a good calendar, I think that’s something I didn’t really have in undergrad,” said Basso, who is currently completing his fifth and final year at Ryerson.
Basso said he focuses on maximizing the hours he has throughout the week to stay on top of his work. “I kind of just did things as I needed to but now I’m very structured with my day.”
For many, it can be tough getting back into the routine after spending years away from education playing in leagues like the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), where the main focus is on athletic performance.
“That first semester is a huge adjustment,” said Basso, who played five years of OHL hockey before joining the Rams. “I think a lot of guys go through a difficult time just getting back into the school environment.”
Another athlete who had to figure out how to deal with his grades was Rams men’s basketball guard Jean-Victor Mukama.
After entering his third year at Ryerson, Mukama was deemed academically ineligible and was removed from the team for the year.
“I was in a place where if I kept going the way I was, I wasn’t going to be successful, just as a person let alone a basketball player,” Mukama, now in his fifth year, explained. “So I just took that whole year to focus on my academics and really find a way to manage my time.”
The time off worked wonders for Mukama who steadily improved his grades in the classroom, allowing him to shine on the basketball court once again.
Both his academic and athletic successes this season have put Mukama in a great place to continue his basketball career after he graduates this year.
Sometimes, however, athletes don’t get to have a second chance and have to make difficult decisions between their pursuit of athletic success and academic careers.
“You’re dedicating so much of your extra time…it’s really hard to keep up”
Wrestler Raquel Vengroff had an extremely difficult decision to make entering her second year of university. Vengroff felt that it was necessary to give up the sport she loved to focus more on her studies.
For Vengroff, wrestling started at a young age and she had a knack for it from the jump. She used her tall, lean structure as an advantage over her opponents. For five years she had aspirations of making it to nationals and came close in her first year at Ryerson.
“It was tough, it really takes a lot of mental grit to do it.” She said.
Pursuing a doctorate in philosophy, she is focusing on fast tracking so she can graduate early.
“You’re dedicating so much of your extra time to something, it’s really hard to keep up,” she said.
She plans on staying involved with the sport by helping out with coaching at her local high school. It has been a tough ride for her this year, but prioritizing school has become a must in terms of where she sees herself in the future.
“Sometimes, you just have to sacrifice something.”
In reality, not all athletes will have the opportunity to continue their athletic passion. Facing academic ineligibility is a factor that will always be a harsh reality for student athletes, but there are many different ways to master the fight against time.