In Classroom and Community, Student-Athletes Excel

As sports fans, we cheer athletes for what they do on the court, on the field, or in the arena. We admire their skill, their drive, their strength and speed. And we tend to measure their success by counting wins and losses.

But at a university, the athletes have something greater at stake. More than 21,000 undergraduates are enrolled at George Mason University; only about 500 are varsity athletes. And each is seeking not just to excel at his or her sport, but to balance the demands of sports and studies, to graduate, and to compete in a bigger game: the game of life.

That’s why George Mason supporters can do more to help our student-athletes than just root for them. Through the Faster Farther campaign, we can support their efforts in the classroom and the community as well. Few Mason student-athletes expect to earn a living playing professionally, but all have greater aspirations in mind. The values they are developing through their sport will pay off no matter what path they choose.

Taylor Brown, the star point guard for the women’s basketball team, is one example. Taylor, who earned her degree in 2015 and completed her on-court career this spring, is not only one of Mason’s all-time leading scorers; she is also a role model for community service. Taylor was one of just five Division I women’s basketball players in the country named to the 2016 Allstate Women’s Basketball Coaches Association Good Works Team. The Good Works Team honors student-athletes who have dedicated themselves to bettering the lives of others through giving back to their communities. Taylor’s contributions including being a student mentor, helping to organize local youth basketball camps, serving in campus ministry, and recording personal testimonies on her website.

“I’m so blessed and I’m just grateful,” Brown said recently. “My ultimate goal is to own a sports complex center so I definitely want to build that platform and be able set an example for younger kids. I want to show them that as long as you believe in yourself and work hard you can achieve great things as well.”

Three members of the Mason wrestling team inspire through their drive to overcome adversity. Ibrahim Bunduka, Konbeh Koroma, and Sahid Kargbo are teammates who share a heritage. All three trace their origin to the African nation of Sierra Leone. The families of Bunduka and Koroma fled the violent civil war there when the boys were about seven years old. Kargbo’s family had left earlier, before he was born. Strangers to each other, they met in high school through the Northern Virginia youth wrestling circuit. “They’re like family to me,” Koroma told the Washington Post earlier this season. “If things don’t go well school-wise, wrestling-wise, they’re always talking to me and pushing me, and I’m trying to do the same thing for them.”

The self-discipline and fortitude that student-athletes develop while competing in a varsity sport typically pay off in the classroom. Forty-one varsity athletes this year earned Mason’s Peter Stearns Provost Scholar-Athlete Award, awarded to those who have achieved a grade point average of 3.75 or better. Two student-athletes stand out for having received this recognition all four years at Mason: environmental science major Stuart Lampen-Crowell (track and field) and tourism and event management major Kelli Beard (lacrosse).

Help Mason Student-Athletes Go Faster and Farther

Providing these students with the full or partial scholarship support they need can often make the difference between success or failure. Mason’s student-athletes collectively receive about $5.5 million in athletic scholarships annually. That’s a good number, but the NCAA allows the university to provide up to $8 million. Fill that $2.5 million gap, and Mason’s donors could help dozens more student-athletes each year.

As scholarship donors Bob and Linda Crites, who have been attending Mason basketball and volleyball games since the 1990s, said, “When you find something you like you need to support it. The student athletes put so much into their sports. The least we can do is go and cheer them on.”

You can support Mason’s student-athletes by making an annual gift to join the Patriot Club. In addition, if you would like to consider establishing a named scholarship endowment, whether for athletics in general or for a specific sport, please contact Jennifer Montgomery at
(703) 993-3217 or jmontgo2@gmu.edu.

—April 27, 2016 / RR