Initially, University of Central Arkansas Athletic Director Brad Teague thought that the Bear Nation Celebration, honoring all of the department’s athletes, coaches and major supporters, could be nicely handled with a informal cookout.
Noooo, said the athletes about the awards program, which entered its second year Tuesday night before about 300 athletes and coaches and 300 special supporters at the Farris Center.
"The student-athletes wanted a dress-up, sitdown dinner, so that’s what we give them," said Teague.
The athletes wanted to be seen in different clothing. It was good for the fan base to get a look at them without tied up or muzzled hair and sweaty bodies. For an evening, the young peoples’ appearance reflected a smiling group of young students with the athlete hyphenated athlete tossed on the shelf.
And you needed a red (or purple?) carpet for the fashion show.
The males displayed of current hair styles with eclectic fashion, from upscale shoes to ties and tennies.
For the females, it was a display of long dresses, mini dresses (several that resembed 1950s’ bathing suits) and stilettoes.
While the fashion show was going on as athletes were honored on stage, Teague brought home the message that was most important.
Hes’s recognized as one of the most effective athletic directors in the region, if not the country.
He is committed to giving all UCA athletes the best possible environment and facilities to compete successfully and to give them an enriching college experience on and off the field. He listens.
In turn, Teague sets a high standard, both on-the-field achievement and off-the-field performance and class, for the players, coaches, his staff and himself. He’s committed to turning student-athletes into citizen-former athletes.
"It’s about principles and it’s about winning championships," he said in his State of UCA Athletics Address. "I expect our student-athletes to outwork everyone, to be responsible and reliable, to communicate well, to reflect constant professionalism and class and to make good choices."
Appropriately for an athletic function, he had stats.
UCA athletes had a cumulative grade-point average of 2.98 last year, up from 2.78 when he was named AD five years ago. The cumulative GPA for all the women’s sports was 3.18. Seven of the nine female sports had combined GPAs above 3.0; six of them were above 3.2.
In men’s sports, UCA had a combined GPA of 2.82, up from 2.65 a year ago.
"The GPA has improved every year and the graduation rate for our student-athletes is 10 percentage points higher than that of the student body as a whole," Teague said.
In four years, UCA’s Academic Progress Rate (APR), the major gauge in the NCAA for academic progress, has increased from 939 to 959, the best APR among all Arkansas NCAA scholarship institutions. That means that almost 96 percent of UCA athletes have graduated or are making measured progress toward a degree. Sports that fall below 900 over a multi-year period can face sanctions, including postseason bans and loss of scholarships.
"Bottom line, our student-athletes are graduating, staying in school and staying eligible," Teague said.
In football, the only sport that APR is formally recognized, UCA has led the Southland Conference in APR for two straight years, one of only five schools to do so this time in consecutive years. The Bears were only one of two teams to lead their conference in APR and also make the postseason playoffs.
"The state of UCA athletics is excellent," said Teague, "but the state of UCA is also excellent."
On an evening that the fashion and bling were colorful and bright, so gleamed the numbers.
Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or email@example.com