Cheney Free Press -


By Paul Delaney
Staff Reporter 

Eastern's academic excellence is hard fought, well coached, too

Women’s basketball, cross country, golf teams earn NCAA APR Public Recognition Awards


Eastern Washington University sports teams have won their share of conference championships — and even a national title in football back in 2010 — over the many decades teams have competed in intercollegiate sports.

But forgotten sometimes by the followers and fans of the Eagles is the fact that athletes who entertain them over the course of the school year are students first and athletes second.

So while football has had its share of heartbreaking defeats deep into the playoffs in the past couple of years, and both men’s and women’s basketball have had their moments and near misses, one thing that has been a constant has been excellence in the classroom.

Three of EWU’s women’s teams in the sports of basketball, cross country and golf have been honored by the NCAA with Academic Progress Rate (APR) Public Recognition Awards for posting multi-year APRs in the top 10 percent of their respective sports. Both golf, coached by Brenda Howe and cross country, led by Chris Zeller, were honored for the third straight year. Basketball, under Wendy Schuller, earned the honor for a second straight year.

The APR provides a real-time look at a team’s academic success each semester by tracking the academic progress of each student-athlete on scholarship.  The APR accounts for eligibility, retention and graduation and provides a measure of each team’s academic performance. 

This announcement is part of the overall Division I academic reform intended to highlight teams that demonstrate a commitment to academic progress and retention of student-athletes.

It starts at the top, Zeller said with EWU athletics director Bill Chaves who meets with each team at the start of fall quarter. “He tells every student athlete here that their main job is to earn a degree,” Zeller said.

“It’s a great honor,” Howe wrote in an email. “Not only does it say a lot for the athletic department and my program, it also says a lot about the University and the Cheney community.”

Retaining athletes and getting them through to graduation goes to show that athletes feel supported by the university and community, she said. “They make EWU and Cheney home for their four years and are committed to us until they graduate,” Howe added.

The APR Award is the latest in a number of proud academic achievements for Eastern athletics.

While the football championship really put Eastern on the map nationally, Chaves will tell you one of his proudest moments – and the banner he tells you he cherishes the most – is the 2009-10 Big Sky President’s Cup.

The Presidents’ Cup was created to single out the academic achievement of student-athletes in the conference as well as performance on the athletic field. For the Cup, schools are awarded points based on five criteria:

•Individual Team Grade Point Averages.


• Number of All-Conference performers with a grade point average above 3.0.

• Women’s All-Sports Trophy Points.

• Men’s All-Sports Trophy Points.

It all helps accentuate the fact that those players who don the red, white and black of EWU are student-athletes who put in long hours both inside and outside the classroom.

“In the end that’s why we’re here, to get a degree and achieve in the classroom,” Schuller said. “So I’m glad we’re doing what we’re supposed to do.”

That starts with finding the right fit in recruiting.

“Historically, golfers are usually outstanding students,” Howe said. “It’s really important for me to recruit players with a good work ethic.”

For Zeller, “Anymore, they have to be students in order to get through all the different requirements with the NCAA,” he said.

All three sports boast the perfect APR score of 1,000.

“Our athletic department has an amazing academic support staff,” Howe said. It’s rare that an athlete will fall through the cracks academically, she added. “The connection between coaches, players, and academic coordinators is, what I believe, above and beyond the typical D-1 school.”

“There’s enough structure there that before they turn out they should be able to be successful,” Zeller said. He pointed to academic advisors like Jim Fitzgerald and Tamara Hageage. “Something that was started about four years ago is a study hall program with Earl Overlie,” Zeller said.

The NCAA has a minimum grade point requirement and the Big Sky as well. “And to be honest with you I don’t even know what that is,” Schuller said. “That’s one thing, I don’t want to do the minimum in anything that we do, including that.”

Paul Delaney can be reached at


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