Cheney Free Press -

By Paul Delaney
Staff Reporter 

Being outstanding in the classroom pays off in competition

Good habits towards school likely translates to athletics for EWU student-athletes


Besides the bragging rights that come with recruiting student-athletes with good, if not great habits in the classroom, there’s a common thread their coaches will tell you is also important to wins and losses, and them keeping their jobs.

“If they have great habits towards their school work they are probably going to have it toward athletics,” Eastern Washington head basketball coach Jim Hayford said. He looks for that success in every area of their life, Hayford said. “You don’t always hit it 100 percent right as a recruiter.”

But it seems he did get it right with his long-distance recruiting of Australian, Venky Jois. “He’s the first guy I ever recruited that wanted to be a doctor,” Hayford said.

Hayford feels he’s got a deal the right young man cannot refuse. “I get this great opportunity to offer a free education to young people to come play basketball; I want to find people who will maximize that,” Hayford said.

Eastern’s head football coach Beau Baldwin likes the fact that the high achievers his program seeks seem naturally motivated.

“You don’t ever have to push them to compete, you don’t have to push them to work hard,” Baldwin said. “That’s what they do.” There’s no need to coach effort and little things, he added. “You know that those guys are going to set the example. They are going to set the example to the younger players: this is how it gets done.”

EWU soccer coach George Hageage largely echoes Hayford and Baldwin. “From my standpoint the academic piece is something where you go, if they’re good in the classroom, that means they’re dedicated, they’re committed, they know how to follow through on things,” Hageage said.

Women’s head basketball coach Wendy Schuller has similar reasons for trying to attract the no strings attached student-athletes to her program. But she thinks she has an advantage over her male counterparts.

“Part of it is we’re fortunate as women’s basketball coaches, as women, or as coaches of female athletes, quite a few of them have their priorities in place,” Schuller said. “More kids get it coming out of high school on the women’s side than on the men’s side.”

Chenise Pakootas is one of Schuller’s top student-athletes and as of spring 2012 carried a 3.37 GPA. The business major would like to follow members of her family as a career path.

“My dad is the CEO for our tribe so I kind of want to follow in his footsteps,” Pakootas said.

Just a junior, Pakootas said she’s on track to graduate in the spring, “If I get all my ducks in a row.” And in her senior year it’s pursuit of a master’s degree.

Pakootas comes from a college-oriented family with her dad holding a masters from the University of Washington. “Schooling has always been a big part of my family, they are always pushing for it,” Pakootas said.

The biggest challenge was the amount of homework. “Through high school it was easy for me and in college I actually had to study and work on it,” Pakootas said.

She admits her first quarter in her freshman year was hard and Pakootas didn’t get the grades she always had. “My parents actually sat down with me and had a talk about it because they saw my grades and it was the worst I ever had in my life.”

Track athlete Jordan Arakawa from Olympia thought he might be able to finish school in four years.

He was thinking of a four-year undergrad timetable but his chosen degree path, exercise science, is especially demanding, Arakawa said.

Arakawa, who had a 3.88 GPA as of spring quarter, made the transition from Capitol High with little trouble. “I feel Eastern did a real good job of transitioning, “Arakawa said, but taking some college-level classes in high school helped.

He’s more motivated in college because he didn’t feel challenged in high school. But there are some potential challenges at Eastern. “You have a lot more distractions, you’re in a dorm with friends and roommates and you don’t have your parents to nag at you,” Arakawa explained.

Whitney Leavitt is from Benton City, Wash. and is a senior majoring in English with the plan of teaching, “Wherever I can get a job.” Carrying a 3.69 GPA, she will graduate in the spring.

Leavitt, along with her brothers all went to college, but her parents did not. He father, however, did attend trade school.

She has always been a good student, admittedly even “geekie” she confessed. “I’ve transitioned pretty smoothly.”

Leavitt was a dominant force at the 1A WIAA State Track and Field Championships, winning the 100 and 200 in all of her four years at Kiona Benton High School.

Jordan Curnutt is a senior track and cross country student-athlete from Spokane’s Mead High who is pursuing a degree in finance with an economics minor. He will do that in four years.

“I was pretty good early on about taking a full load,” Curnutt said. “I think they’ve done a pretty good job as an institution getting me from start to finish.”

Stephanie Dye is pursuing a masters in occupational therapy.

“I am actually a fifth year so I am actually in my first year of grad school,” Dye said. Her undergrad degree is in exercise science, an interest that was first fostered in a program at Riverside High School.

“My goal is to be a pediatric occupational therapist,” Dye said, perhaps with the Spokane Guild School if she had her choice.

Dye follows a lineage of not only college grads in the family, but Eastern educated as well. Her sister Amanda Dye and grandfather George Dye were both graduates of the school, while her parents earned community college degrees.

Pursuing a double major in finance and electrical engineering in the classroom, Ferris High grad Jeff Minnerly has spent the last three years tracking down opponents who sneak into his territory as a safety for EWU’s football team.

Minnerly, who sports a 3.78 GPA was on track to finish early with one major so when he got what little breaks he could from football he took on the second major.

As is the case with other fellow student-athletes, learning time management has been one of Minnerly’s biggest challenges. “Mom’s not there making sure you get your homework done before you go out,” he said.

Paul Delaney can be reached at

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