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NIU's Bridge Program gets athletes acclimated to university life

Published: Saturday, July 13, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT
(Rob Winner – rwinner@shawmedia.com)
Dr. Rod Caughron discusses stress management Wednesday during a Scientific Basis of Human Activity class for incoming student athletes at the Yordon Center on the Northern Illinois University campus.

DeKALB – Being a freshman in college can be an extremely stressful time, but for about 30 freshmen student-athletes at Northern Illinois, this summer has been a time to get ahead and quell the apprehensions.

The NIU Athletics Bridge Program is going strong, getting student-athletes ahead in their classes while helping them to ease into college life. This summer, the program offers three courses: English 103, Kinesiology & Physical Education 100 and Communications 100.

Most of the student-athletes taking part in the program are football players, but there are also three men’s and four women’s basketball players. The majority came because of suggestions from coaches, but they realize the importance of getting ahead.

“The coaches suggested it, and I kind of took it from there,” said Chad Beebe, a wide receiver from Aurora Christian. “I just knew it would be a good way to get school going and get some credit hours in before the fall semester. Being able to start out with just two classes will help a lot.”

Each class runs for two days a week, either Monday and Wednesday or Tuesday and Thursday, giving the student-athletes a lot of time outside the classroom. In order to better adapt them to college, the academic coordinators set up study tables and tutoring sessions. The tutors are student workers, graduate students and DeKalb School District faculty.

Outside of academics, a lot of time is spent working out. NCAA rules prohibit football players from practicing with coaches at this time, but they have weight-lifting sessions and 7-on-7 workouts, or, as academic coordinator John Bruno said, “They’re playing a lot of video games, I’m sure.”

While the program is meant to help academically, it has social benefits as well. Student-athletes stay in the dorms, rooming with teammates, giving them plenty of time to build chemistry. However, they are not limited to interacting with just players from their own sport, because classes mix them all together.

“They definitely bond, because there are not a lot of people in DeKalb over the summer,” Bruno said. “You’ll see them walking around in groups on campus, so it definitely helps the social aspect of it.”

The five-week process is invaluable for the players, as college is, for most students, completely foreign until late August. This program allows them to become more comfortable with the college experience while lightening their load during their seasons, because playing a Division I sport is stressful enough on it’s own.

“During the year, we have to manage both academics and going to practice and games and being on the road,” said Luke Potnick, a basketball walk-on from Buffalo Grove. “I just think we have a little bit more on our plate, and by partaking in this, we get a little less stress during the year.”

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