Bear Nation came together Tuesday night, bound by threads of food, fellowship, awards, recognition, live and silent auctions and a state-of-the-program address.

The inaugural Bear Nation Celebration at the Farris Center was a hybrid of three different events of the past by the University of Central Arkansas athletic department — the Student-Athlete Awards Banquet, the Purple Circle Kickoff celebration and the Purple Circle Tipoff Party.

The festive event occurred on the floor of the Farris Center and utilized the large video board for presentations attracted a crowd of about 750 that included athletes, coaches, fans, major donors and Conway business leaders.

The main point of the evening occurred with Dr. Brad Teague, UCA’s athletic director, discussed grade points and honored some of the athletic department’s highest achievers.

Teague said UCA’s graduation rate for the last year is 85 percent, up from 80 percent the year before. The overall graduation percentage for UCA athletes is 10 points higher than the student body as a whole (53 percent to 43 percent).

In the 17 sports that UCA competes in on a varsity level, Teague said the overall grade-point average for UCA athletes, as of this month after the summer sessions, is 2.94, up from 2.76 four years ago. The grade-point average for the nine women’s sports is 3.16 and seven of the nine programs have GPA’s over 3.0. The GPA for the men’s programs is 2.79.

According to the Academic Progress Rate (APR), the major measuring stick for academic success of NCAA athletic teams, UCA has a score of 949, which means that almost 95 percent of UCA athletes are graduating or staying in school and making significant progress toward a degree.

UCA men’s basketball coach Corliss Williamson, one of the featured speakers, noted that of six players who have left his first program, five have graduated and three are playing basketball overseas and two have gained graduate assistant’s positions in college programs.

"You’re measured by wins and losses but this means as much to me as championships," Williamson said. "You want young men to take what they learn in sports and carry that over to life."

In a state-of-the-program address, Teague said the UCA athletic program will strictly adhere to NCAA principles of academic integrity, rules and governance and well-being for athletes.

"I will add a fourth principle," Teague said. "We will commpete well and win championships. We will continue to win on the fields and courts and in the classroom."

Men’s cross country, with a 3.26, was honored as having the highest GPA among men’s sports teams last season. Baseball was second.

Tennis had the highest women’s GPA at 3.39, followed closely by women’s cross country and volleyball at 3.34.

Women’s basketball coach Matt Daniel, who was married three days ago and said the event was part of his honeymoon, was recognized as UCA Coach of the Year for last season.

Sugar Bear basketball star Megan Herbert was honored as Female Student-Athlete of the year among nominees that included Melanie Bryant, softball; Jasmine Ellis, track and field; Julie Foerster, soccer; Alex Rios, tennis; Julia Roth, golf; and Chloe Smith, volleyball.

UCA baseball pitcher Dustin Ward was named Male Student-Athlete of the Year among nominees that included Dewan Clayborn, basketball; Logan Dockery, cross country; Austin Emerson, football; Steven Lecuyer,  golf; Donovan Loring, track and field; and Andrew O’Brien, soccer.

Don Weaver was named Purple Circle Member of the Year.