COLUMBIA — While the Missouri gymnastics team has had an impressive season and is ranked 18th in the nation, it has also flourished in the classroom.
When the Big 12 Conference office announced the Academic All-Big 12 Gymnastics Team last week, nine Missouri gymnasts were named to the first team out of its 11 eligible team members.
Freshmen and transfer gymnasts are not eligible to qualify for academic awards and first-team members must have a 3.20 GPA or higher. Seniors Julie Abaray, Nikki Bowman, Ashley Khederian and Lisa Puccio were named to the team, along with juniors Alicia Hatcher and Adrianne Perry and sophomores Brooke Boehmer, Becky Scholle and Liz Straatmann.
Missouri gymnastics coach Rob Drass says the honors show the priorities of his team.
“It tells what our core values are on this team,” Drass said. “We are about young female athletes going to college and getting an education and being a great gymnastics team in the process.”
The academic accolades help emphasize the coaching staff’s efforts to put the student part of the term student-athlete first.
“It definitely shows that I am really dedicated to school and not just gymnastics,” Bowman said. “It’s expected of me to get good grades, but it’s just nice to be rewarded and have people know.”
The gymnasts say the coaches are always reminding them the importance of academics with constant reminders about class attendance, going to professors’ office hours and making up schoolwork. The coaches get grade reports of the gymnasts and enforce mandatory study hours for them. Drass makes sure the gymnasts know the importance of academics immediately as freshmen.
“I feel like I get less of that now because I’m a senior and (the coaches) have kind of pushed it, so it’s already instilled in me,” Bowman said. “But I know when I was a freshman, they always made sure I got my academics done first before gymnastics.”
Bowman, who will be graduating in May with a bachelor’s degree in marketing, has received a job with the Sports Museum of America in New York. She will be working in the marketing office with a focus on the women’s sports section of the museum. She says the Missouri’s athletics Total Person Program, a student-athlete development program, helped prepare her for the job interview and creating a résumé. The program also provides the gymnasts with tutors if they need one for a specific class.
Great academics not only help the gymnasts obtain jobs after graduation, but also postgraduate scholarships. Abaray was one of 13 female athletes in the country to be awarded with the Women’s Enhancement Postgraduate Scholarship designed for student-athletes who intend to work in intercollegiate athletics after graduate school.
Tigers gymnast Amanda Pezzullo received the same scholarship last year, and Jodie Heinicka received the Big 12 Conference Dr. Prentice Gautt Postgraduate Scholarship and was named Big 12 Sportsperson of the Year in 2006.
“They are incredible people, they all work really hard in the gym and outside the gym in school,” Drass said. “I think they are incredibly dedicated and have great time management skills.”