The grades of Whatcom Community College's athletes are doing a lot to dispel stereotypes.
"Dumb jocks" need not apply for positions on WCC's five athletic teams. These men and women are busy putting the "student" in student-athlete.
Not only do all five squads have current team grade-point averages above 3.0, but 31 of the college's 80 athletes carry GPAs of 3.5 or better, including six athletes at 4.0 (straight A's).
Only one student was deficient (below 2.0) in the latest grade report.
Longtime men's basketball coach Chris Scrimsher oversees the academic progress of four teams, working with each athlete toward reaching academic goals. Kris Baier, in his fourth year as WCC's Director for Student Life, which includes the athletic director position, oversees men's soccer.
They acknowledge they use a form of "tough love" to keep the athletes focused on grades as well as success on the field (men's and women's soccer) and in the gym (women's volleyball and men's and women's basketball).
"I've got all the friends I need. I'm not here to make friends with the athletes," Scrimsher, now in his 13th season as head coach, said with a smile, indicating that he is more than willing to apply the academic hammer when needed. "When I recruit, I tell the student that if you just want to play basketball, this probably isn't the place for you."
Baier delights in that approach.
"As our athletic department coordinator, Chris does the work of many people," Baier said.
Scrimsher says he also stresses life skills and education outside the classroom.
"I know every athlete and I keep a close watch on them," said Scrimsher, who firmly believes that high school is not where academic supervision and oversight should end.
Baier says he likes to work closely with the faculty. When an athlete isn't cutting it, he and Scrimsher want to know right away. They're not looking for surprises when grades come out.
"We have a 'wrap-around' advising model where academic advisers know athletic eligibility requirements that allow us to connect success in the classroom with the athletes' success on the court or field," Baier said.
Since he arrived at WCC four years ago, Baier, 38, has hired three young coaches from Northwest Conference schools -- Bellingham graduates Claire Morgan (women's soccer) and Sara Bergner (women's basketball) and Anacortes graduate Joel Grossman (men's soccer). Baier is looking for a women's volleyball coach since Jeff McDonald recently left.
"Our coaches remember vividly what it was like to be a student athlete," Baier said. "I see the connections our coaches make with their athletes."
Baier and Scrimsher both stress recruiting student-athletes who are likely to succeed academically and thus likely either to earn two-year degrees or to qualify to transfer to four-year colleges.
"In our previous 12 seasons, we've had more than 50 men's basketball players go on to play at four-year colleges, including six in the GNAC this season," said Scrimsher, a 46-year-old former Bellingham High basketball player in his 17th year working at WCC. "Winning is great, but we really feel our primary goal is to get our athletes ready for both academic and athletic success at the next level."
Baier, who once worked at Western Washington University, firmly maintains recruiting good students does not hurt athletic success.
He says the proof is in the records: Men's basketball is ranked seventh in the huge Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges and won the NWAACC North Region last year, women's basketball is No. 1 in the North, men's soccer has made the playoffs in all five of the past seasons, with the women qualifying three times and the volleyball team has missed the playoffs only once in the past five seasons.
Current grade-point averages for the women's teams are 3.69 in volleyball, 3.56 in basketball and 3.51 in soccer. Men's soccer stands at 3.29 and men's basketball at 3.07.
"Students share with us personal connections with faculty as a reason they're successful," said Baier. "Our faculty is really supportive. Mike Langey (the previous athletic director) did a great job of setting up our program. And what's also exciting for us is that Becky Rawlins (former women's basketball coach) is now director of human resources and Nate Langstraat (former volleyball coach and now a Western assistant coach) is vice president of administrative services."
Baier says there isn't enough room in this story to name the administrators and faculty members who support student-athletes. WCC is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.
"Winning is great, but our philosophy is to invest in the student and the student will invest in the program," Baier said. "We gather all the student-athletes together at the beginning of the school year and we have an 'eligibility day' where we communicate the philosophy of the program. We talk about our four C's -- character, classroom, competition and community."
Baier encourages teams to do community service, such as at the Lighthouse Mission or with drives to benefit local food banks.
"We have a much higher percentage of local athletes, about half, on our teams than most community colleges do," he said. "You look at a lot of other community colleges and it's not like that. We definitely benefit from the excellence of local high school programs."
Baier and Scrimsher say it's always a highlight of their day when an athlete talks about receiving help from an instructor or administrator.
Funding is often a challenge, but they say they're determined not to let that defeat them.
"We're one of the leaner community colleges in terms of resources, but we're very efficient in how we use those resources," Baier said.
They say that recruits often are attracted to the two modern facilities -- Orca Pavilion and an all-weather FieldTurf soccer pitch, which is also used by WWU and local high school teams. The Bellingham Slam basketball team and the Bellingham Roller Betties also perform at the pavilion.
Scrimsher says that student-athletes don't always appreciate his form of tough love.
"But I get immense satisfaction when someone comes back later and says 'thank you.'" Scrimsher said. "That means so much. There are lots of ways to measure success."