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Wednesday, July 23, 2014 | Last updated: 6:59am

Arizona student athletes get boost in school



Founded in 1990 by former deputy director of athletics Kathleen “Rocky” LaRose, Commitment to an Athlete’s Total Success has provided Arizona student-athletes with a place for support in all areas of their life.

“The whole purpose is to provide a holistic approach to our student-athletes,” said Wesley Maas, associate athletic director and director of CATS Academics. “We want to make sure that the students of the University of Arizona aren’t just coming here to play a sport, they are graduating from here with a degree in the field that they want to go into.”

The program is modeled after the Think Tank and provides student-athletes with resources like six academic counselors, 60-70 tutors and three learning specialists, Maas said. There are student-athletes at many different levels, including independent learners and students who are more at risk for poor academic performance, he added.

“The biggest thing that sets us apart in my experience is that we are student-centered,” Maas said. “The biggest thing we want to do is build relationships with our kids so that they feel comfortable talking to us when they have issues.”

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Courtesy of CATS Academics / Junior men's basketball player T.J. McConnell does schoolwork at the Commitment to an Athlete's Total Success facility. CATS provides student athletes with additional academic support.

With all of the NCAA restrictions, CATS Academic counselors ensure that students stay on track to graduate.

“The NCAA requires that student-athletes make progress towards a degree, so that is why we work a lot with the advisers on campus, because we want to make sure that our guys are moving in the right direction toward graduation,” said Andy Salgado, the football academic counselor for CATS.

Maas said that CATS Academics is a member of Student Affairs and not Arizona Athletics, unlike at most other universities, so that the unit cannot be pressured by coaches. Greg Byrne, vice president for athletics, implemented a strict attendance policy for athletes. The student receives a warning after three absences, and after four absences, they are suspended from a competition.

The UA has seen positive results. In the NCAA’s 2013 Academic Progress Report, Arizona football was first in the Pac-12, with a score of 980 out of a possible 1,000. UCLA and Stanford tied with a score of 978.

However, in 2006, Arizona football lost four scholarships for an unsatisfactory APR of 883.

Still, CATS recognizes those who perform well academically with the Student Athlete of the Month award.

“Obviously our student-athletes here get a lot of recognition for their athletic achievements, but we also wanted to make sure that they received recognition for their academic achievements as well,” Maas said. “The whole process is to give the student-athletes positive recognition and reinforcement in that [they] are students first.”

Arizona senior Shana Sangston was named to be First-Team All-Academic Pac-12 for women’s gymnastics, the third time she has received this award. She attributes much of her success to CATS.

“They have supported me the entire way,” Sangston said. “I have used the tutoring for four classes and it was so helpful and it made everything a lot easier because they were always there, no matter what.”

Since the athletes are on the road so often, CATS Academics has created one of the first-ever online tutoring platforms, stressing that its staff travel with the team to form relationships with the players outside of the classroom.

“Our coaches have made a commitment to academics,” Maas said. “This is my sixth Division I school that I have worked at and the first school I have seen be so adamant that academic counselors and learning specialists travel with the team.”

Sangston described the award and CATS Academics as a very rewarding part of her time at Arizona.
“School is really important to me, so it is nice when hard work pays off like that,” Sangston said. “I have studied so much and it is really hard with gymnastics because we don’t get as much time as the average student. It’s very rewarding.”

—Follow Matt Wall @mwall20


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