Faculty Athletics Mentors Strengthen Student-Athlete Experience

Baseball faculty adviser Garland Granger
Baseball faculty adviser Garland Granger

“Athletes are students first,” says Craig Eilbacher. Guilford’s Faculty Athletics Representative plays a key role along with the school’s faculty advisers to enrich a Guilford student-athlete’s college experience and provide the best education possible.

Eilbacher (left), a professor of sports medicine at Guilford, is responsible for communicating with the athletic director, serving on search committees for hiring coaches, dealing with NCAA regulations, solving issues student-athletes have with coaches, and maintaining the balance between coaches, faculty and athletes.

Eilbacher describes himself as an arbitrator and mediator. He believes the biggest problem student-athletes face is time management. Figuring out how to plan out one’s day ties into the tricky situations presented by scheduling conflicts with athletics and academics.  “I push athletes to have an open line of communication with the faculty,” he says. Eilbacher says this medium of exchange helps prevent clashes arising from various tournaments and rescheduling conflicts. When athletes are unable to reach solutions with their professors, Eilbacher steps in to reach consensus.   

Eilbacher says student-athletes are not just jocks. “Guilford’s campus is very vibrant,” he says, listing various activities such as theater, art and clubs. Eilbacher encourages student-athletes to branch out and embrace these aspects of campus life. “Whether you are a student, or a student-athlete, you represent Guilford College with distinction.”  

If Eilbacher addresses issues at the institutional level, faculty advisers cater to individual concerns.

Garland Granger is one such faculty adviser. His tenure began as an observer attending baseball practices to watch his nephew. The Guilford accounting professor quickly developed relationships with other baseball players. When head baseball coach Nick Black ‘02 subsequently asked Granger to take on a new role, he became much more than an observer. He became a faculty adviser—or, as Granger likes to call it, a mentor.

Granger is not the school’s only faculty adviser. Their ranks also include Guilford faculty members Heather Hayton, Kyle and Erin Dell, Barbara Lawrence and numerous others who personalize the student-athlete’s college experience. As Granger puts it, “Faculty advisers bridge the gap between athletics and academics.” 

The impact of faculty advisers is both big and small.

Basketball player Will Koppenhaver prepared to transfer after his freshman year. When Hayton (right), the team’s faculty adviser, asked Koppenhaver for one more semester, the power forward listened. In the year that followed, he traveled to the Himalayas as part of a study abroad program and became a better student with Hayton’s help. Koppenhaver will graduate from Guilford this May and started all 26 games in his senior season

Faculty advisers also help in more nuanced ways. Granger recalls when first basemen Chuck Noble struggled to hit the baseball. Granger, who previously played tennis, told Noble to focus on his technique. “When you get up to the plate, take three deep breaths,” Granger said. “What that does is force your muscles to relax.” In the next few games, Noble piled the stat sheet. Days later, Granger received a note from the first baseman, “Thanks for the advice.”

Black says Granger assists students who are unable or afraid of building a bridge with faculty themselves. These relationships can help address any academic-related issue: professors, exams, expectations or life beyond Guilford. 

“The role mostly involves being a sounding board, adviser and resource for the team as they navigate through Guilford,” says Kyle Dell, adviser to the soccer team. Advisers also fulfill a role for student-athletes that coaches cannot. “Coaches aren’t on the academic side of things,” says Black, “so we aren’t able to bridge that gap.” Faculty advisers fill this void for student-athletes by maximizing the educational opportunities Guilford offers.

Faculty advisers have a unified goal. “My greatest gift with students is to instill courage,” says Granger. He says the faculty adviser’s role is to stand beside student-athletes and push them towards improvement while also aiding them in the trials of being both a student and an athlete. “As someone that came through a small liberal arts college myself,” says Dell (right), “I know how important it can be to have personal connections throughout one's different roles in college--as a student, as an athlete, as a leader of a club or even just as a person.” What Dell, and other faculty advisers do, is attempt to establish that connection.

Granger says he stumbled into the opportunity to become faculty adviser. The Dells were offered the job by head soccer coach Jeff Bateson. The three established a relationship during club soccer events. Thanks to the longtime assistance recently retired professor Kathy Adams provided as adviser, Bateson realized the role’s importance for student-athletes.

“This is a position I really wanted,” Eilbacher said. “[I like] working with as many people as possible to make things run smoothly.” Eilbacher relishes the challenge of finding balance between athletics and academics to make the student-athlete’s experience as fulfilling as possible.

“We want to maximize the athlete experience,” says Dave Walters, Guilford’s Sports Information Director. “But at the same time, we want athletes to be successful as students. When student-athletes leave Guilford, we know it will be their education that helps them with gainful employment.”

Faculty advisers can personalize a student-athlete’s Guilford experience and Eilbacher helps maintain an infrastructure that stimulates student success. Both build bridges for present and future endeavors of Guilford’s student-athletes. 

 

- Jacob Kapp '15

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