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Celebrate Division III Athletics

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When the media discusses college sports, it seems to focus much of the attention on NCAA Division I athletics. Quite often, too little attention is paid to the important role of Division III athletics at campuses all over the country. On this, the 40th anniversary of the establishment of Division III, it is worthwhile to take a moment to reflect on the significance of these programs.

With nearly 450 member institutions, DIII is the largest division of the NCAA. More than 170,000 students nationwide participate in NCAA DIII sports. These students do not get athletic scholarships and few would say they play in hopes of going pro. They compete because of their love for the sport, recognizing full well the primary importance of academic success to their futures. In this regard they are truly student-athletes.

As the NCAA website states, Division III is committed to the three "Ds." First, student-athletes are encouraged to "discover" and pursue their interests both on the field and in the classroom. Second, they are given the opportunity to "develop" into well-rounded individuals. Third, they are expected to "dedicate" themselves to achieving their academic and athletic potential.

While many of them may not become professional athletes, the students derive considerable benefits from participation -- benefits that extend well beyond college. Indeed, these student-athletes learn valuable life skills, including time management, leadership, integrity, fitness, and team work. They also learn to deal with both disappointment and success.

At Nazareth College, we have 24 NCAA teams, with 25 percent of the undergraduate student body participating on one of those teams. These teams serve a significant recruitment role. Over one third of our freshmen students this year are playing an NCAA sport. Last year, we started a men's hockey team and attracted students from 10 states throughout the country as well as from Canada, South Africa, and Russia.

It should be stressed that student-athletes compete especially well not only on the field but in the classroom as well. The athletes on our campus have an overall grade point average that is higher than that of the general student body. Moreover, retention and graduation rates are higher as well.

The teams also engage regularly in community service projects. This week we will be hosting a basketball competition with a nearby rival school that over the past few years has raised $73,000 for the local Children's Hospital. This is just one of many examples where our athletes have been active in community service projects.

Finally, athletic competitions enhance student life activities. Last year, more than 1,000 people attended Nazareth College's first hockey game (which, I should brag, we won in overtime).

We should take time to celebrate the success of Division III athletics over the past 40 years.