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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Mary Cullinan and Lynn Hickey: Academics and athletics: A powerful partnership for our region

By Mary Cullinan and Lynn Hickey Eastern Washington University

Athletics brings people together in unique ways. We put aside our issues, our differences, and unite behind a team. Athletic competitions heighten our sense of community, enable us to engage in friendly rivalries, and create traditions that enrich our lives.

Last Saturday, millions of people across the nation watched Eastern Washington University play North Dakota State University in the FCS championship game. Thousands of Eagle fans flooded into Frisco, Texas. We were overjoyed to have come so far; we took pride in the incredible athletic talents and true grit of our student athletes. We reveled in having won the national championship in 2010. We were honored to be the only Big Sky team to have made it to Frisco twice in a decade. We “left no doubt” that we belonged in the National Championship.

Yes, we want to win another national championship. We will work hard to return to Frisco. But EWU doesn’t support an athletic program with the primary goal of winning championships. Eastern’s fundamental mission is academic: We’re here to educate, to help prepare the next generation of successful citizens and community leaders. We’re an engine for the professional workforce of this region and state.

Our athletic programs complement this mission. EWU student-athletes are, primarily, students: for three of the past four years, they’ve won the Big Sky President’s Cup for athletic and academic excellence.

As former student-athletes attest, competitive athletic programs build lifelong skills; they instill teamwork and discipline. They teach young people about winning and losing, about life balance. They teach lessons about adversity and grit: We went into the Frisco game without eight of our key starters, including our quarterback. And yet we remained competitive.

The success of EWU’s football program turns a spotlight on our academic excellence: Thousands of people visited our academic websites before, during, and after the game in Frisco. Athletics help create pride and traditions on campus. And, by bringing national attention to our university, athletic success actually adds value to our academic degrees. Our success shines a bright light on our region and our state.

We’re so grateful to everyone who supported our team through this incredible football season. Our success in football extends beyond our team. It extends to the winning spirit shared by our supporters throughout our region, across the state, and around the country. We are all reminded of our tremendous power to achieve great things.

Together we are the Eagle Nation. We are the Eagle Family. Thank you.

Mary Cullinan is president of Eastern Washington University. Lynn Hickey is director of athletics at Eastern Washington University.

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