Jimi Schmidt may be the all-time poster boy for the existence of athletic scholarships.
Leave it to the NCAA to turn him into a negative statistic.
In figuring student-athlete graduation rates for its member schools, the NCAA puts a six-year limit on obtaining a degree. A student on athletic aid who finishes after the prescribed deadline - or transfers and graduates from another college - actually lowers the percentage.
When he entered Eastern Washington University in the fall of 1988, Jimi Schmidt knew he wasn’t going to set any course-ofstudy records. And sure enough, it was six calendar years and one academic quarter later that he walked away from Eastern with a B.A. in education.
That’s one quarter too many by NCAA standards.
Still, Schmidt ranks as one of EWU’s greatest success stories and not because he was an allconference center for the Eagles’ 1992 Big Sky football champions.
Schmidt came to realize during his years at Everett High School that he had a learning disability - originally thought to be dyslexia, though Schmidt thinks otherwise.
“It wasn’t that I read things backwards or mixed up letters,” he said. “I had trouble with recognition and comprehension, and in stressful situations it got worse and I’d fall apart.”
In fact, Schmidt needed help just getting into Eastern. He was accepted into a program for blind students that allowed him to take the Scholastic Aptitude Test on tape, untimed. Once in school, he became a regular at EWU’s Learning Skills Center and former Eagles football coach Dick Zornes credits Russ Turner as “the guy who really helped him get through.
“But the bottom line was Jimi. A ton of people would have quit along the way. And it was tough on Jimi because he’s a social-minded person. When you’re busting your butt for 6 hours to do the studying your buddy can do in an hour, that can be pretty defeating mentally.”
It wasn’t necessarily any easier for him on the football field. Zornes said Schmidt struggled mightily with formation calls “which is why he didn’t start until his junior year. Sometimes Peder Thorstenson would have to say, ‘This way, Jimi’ and he’d get straightened out.”
And then there was the nervous tic that manifested itself in pressure situations. He laughs about his teammates “nicknaming me ‘Twitch,’ ” but in taking classes to earn his teaching endorsement in special education Schmidt has come to believe he has Tourette’s syndrome, a neurological disorder.
Schmidt is now back at his old high school, where he teaches and serves as an assistant coach in football and track.
“It’s my feeling that guys like Jimi, because of what they had to go through, will probably be better teachers,” said Zornes. “They’ll have a better understanding for the kids who don’t have things coming easily for them.”
And what of the fact that Schmidt counts against EWU’s most recent graduation rate numbers - 33 percent for the recruits that entered in 1988?
“Well, I knew I wasn’t going to be the one getting out in four years,” Schmidt said. “As long as I graduated, I think I was successful no matter what the NCAA says. And even if it took me six years and a quarter, they didn’t forget about me. Dick Zornes was at my graduation to shake my hand. That meant a lot to me.”
He was there for a reason.
“The NCAA study is statistics,” said Zornes. “College athletics is about human beings.”
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