Why would nearly 200 Temple student-athletes willingly wake up before sunrise? Probably for a buffet-style breakfast interrupted by frequent rounds of applause for their academic, competitive and societal success.
That was the intent of the Breakfast of Champions, an event to honor Temple’s top student-athletes. The third annual breakfast, held at the Liacouras Center, celebrated the achievements of student-athletes on and off the field of play with numerous awards.
“I think it’s a great idea to bring student-athletes together to honor great people, great academic accomplishments and great athletes,” said Steven Wacker, a senior on the men’s soccer team.
This year’s guest speaker was Don Tollefson, sports anchor for Fox 29. Tollefson, a former Stanford student-athlete, commended Temple’s ability to “weave athletics into the academic commitment and make sure student-athletes are not only prioritized and emphasized, but rewarded in honor.”
In addition, a number of athletic and academic administrators attended, including University President David Adamany and director of athletics Bill Bradshaw.
The most prestigious awards were Male and Female Athlete of the Year and Temple Teammates, which recognized superior community involvement. According to Gary Bundy, director of student-athlete services, finalists were considered based on four criteria: consistent outstanding academic performance, community service involvement, athletic contribution to the team, and the ability to compel others through leadership.
Of roughly 550 student-athletes, Wacker, an academic all-American, was chosen as Male Athlete of the Year. Senior Rachel Clinton of the women’s track team was named Female Athlete of the Year.
“I am just really surprised,” Clinton said. “I’m really happy that I have been recognized and I really appreciate that.”
Receiving awards for outstanding community service were senior Nyika White and junior Erika Messa, both gymnasts.
The Breakfast of Champions was instituted by Bradshaw after his arrival at Temple three years ago. Prior to 2002, there was no formal program of recognition for student-athletes’ academic success or community involvement.
To receive an invitation to the breakfast, student-athletes must possess a grade point average of 3.0 or higher. Nearly 200 invitations were sent out – about 36 percent of the total number of student-athletes, Bundy said.
Of the student-athletes in attendance, 134 were recognized for earning cumulative GPAs of 3.0 to 3.49, earning acceptance into the Director’s Honor Roll, while 63 student-athletes made President’s Honor Roll by earning cumulative GPAs of 3.5 to 4.0.
For the third consecutive year, the women’s tennis team earned the highest team aggregate GPA of 3.35. Eight other teams earned aggregate GPAs of 3.0.
Adamany commended the student-athletes for their teamwork, personal self-discipline and sportsmanship.
“The average GPA on this campus is higher for student-athletes than it is for the general student body,” Adamany said. “You are the leaders in setting the tone academically at Temple and that’s enormously important to us.”
Steven Wacker – Wacker, a Philadelphia native, helped spark a turnaround in the men’s soccer program. A captain since 2003, Wacker helped lead the Owls to consecutive Atlantic Ten Conference Championship matches and was recently selected by the Philadelphia KiXX of the Major Indoor Soccer League. His success transferred into the classroom, where he earned an academic all-America and the Philadelphia Soccer Seven Academic Award. “We have a great study hall with tutors. I think that plays a great part,” Wacker said.
Rachel Clinton – Who would have thought a five-time A-10 Champion track star began running track in high school merely to stay in shape for soccer season? As captain of the Owls this year, Clinton won the 55-meter hurdles three times during the indoor track season and twice won the 100-meter hurdles during the outdoor season. She will attempt her third championship in the 100-meter hurdles at the A-10 Outdoor Championships on May 7-8. “It has been fairly difficult,” Clinton said of juggling academics with athletics. “Of course it takes a lot of hard work, but sacrifice has definitely been a major part.”
Nyika White – White, a two-time all-American, is the nation’s top-ranked gymnast on still rings. Earlier this month, White led the men’s gymnastics team at this year’s NCAA Championships and was named Owlsports.com Athlete of the Month in March. The recipient of the community service award said his community was an integral part of his growing up. “When I was younger there were a lot of people in my community that helped me out and either lent a helping hand or words of wisdom… in growing up that stayed with me,” White said.
Erika Messa – Though she was plagued by injury this past season and did not compete, Messa took advantage of her off time to make an impact in the Temple and Philadelphia community. “My parents have always reinforced the idea that it’s good to give back, and the Temple community really stresses its importance,” Messa said. “I think it’s especially important around the Philadelphia area because there’s so many kids that could really use it and I know they appreciate anything you can do for them.”
Alison Stuart can be reached at email@example.com.