We often hear the term student-athlete used in college athletics.
That is particularly true for our top spectator sports such as football and basketball. Judging by the low graduation rates at so many schools, there obviously is a lot of lip service.
If you are looking for the true college student-athlete close to Dalton, try the Tennessee-Chattanooga cross country and track programs that annually compete for Southern Conference athletic and academic honors.
Shelley Taylor, a 2006 Northwest Whitfield graduate and standout distance runner for the Lady Bruins, is the lone area representative in the Mocs’ program and a true role model. During the past week, the distance runner earned recognition to the 2009-10 All-Southern Conference Academic Team with a 3.63 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale.
“Shelley’s done such a great job for us as a runner and student,” UTC coach Bill Gautier said. “Shelley is everybody’s sister. She likes everybody, and everybody likes her. She never seems to have a bad day.”
At present, the educational major is practice teaching at Normal Park School in Chattanooga.
“It’s the No. 1 magnet school in the country (attracts gifted children),” Taylor said. “I’m really enjoying it.”
Although due to graduate in May, she will be eligible for another full year of cross country and track. That is because of a redshirt year due to injuries.
When healthy, Taylor has earned all-conference honors in cross country (8-kilometer, just short of 5 miles) and on the track for the 3,000-meter steeplechase (running over barriers, 10 minutes, 5 seconds) and 5-kilometer indoors (18:04).
“I don’t want to just be a fifth-year senior,” the 22-year-old Taylor said. “I want to be running 18-flat (5-k) and the top three in the conference. Also to be competitive in everything else.”
She takes equal pride in the Lady Mocs’ strong academics.
“Every year nationally, we’re in the top 15 or so,” Taylor said. “You don’t want to be the one to let everyone down.”
Taylor will work during in the 2010-11 school year on her masters in early childhood education.
“Shelley will be an outstanding teacher,” Gautier said. “She loves children. She wants to stay in the area. She will be a positive influence in school, church or whatever. We were fortunate that she came to Chattanooga. She had an outstanding high school career.”
Taylor earned state titles at Northwest in cross country (5-kilometer) and the 3,200 run for track. Classmates also selected her homecoming queen.
“Coach obviously has been good for the program, both academically and athletically,” Taylor said. “He’s a tough coach.”
In regards to rugged swimming workouts that Gautier employs, she said with a chuckle, “I can actually swim a few laps without collapsing.”
Area schools somewhere down the road would do well to place Taylor at the top of the list as a teacher and a possible coach.
Regarding his 19 years in coaching, Gautier said, “We’ve won maybe seven or eight conference championships in women’s and men’s cross country. We’ve been second three times. We haven’t fared as well in track. We had a budget cut there several years ago. We pretty much depend on our distance runners from cross country to carry us.”
Last fall, the women’s and men’s cross country teams (about a dozen on each roster) were cited for all-academic recognition by U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association. The women compiled a 3.53 GPA and the men a 3.52, both solid overall B-plus to low-A averages.
“Every sport is different,” Gautier said. “Our athletes realize that they’re going to college here for an education. If they’re not focused on academics, I don’t want them. I recruit kids who are smart.”
Gautier, 52, was an an all-conference distance runner at Western Kentucky University. His background included a tremendous 29-minute 10-kilometer.
He is perfectly content to coach others. That includes his wife, Jan, who shines as a masters’ performer (40-and-over).
With role models such as Northwest product Shelley Taylor, Gautier long has guided a program of true student-athletes.
We often hear the term student-athlete used in college athletics.
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