MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - College graduation weekend - the three days all students work tirelessly for over a four-year period.
Sometimes though, four years just isn’t enough. Whatever the circumstance, many college students now need an extra semester or two to attain their degree.
Student-athletes are not immune to this trend. Given the workload they carry day-in and day-out – an average of 15 class hours, combined with practice time, training sessions and study hall requirements – an extra semester or two is understandable.
Such was the case for former West Virginia University gymnast Nicole Roach. A four-year letterwinner (2009-12) and a three-time All-East Atlantic Gymnastics League (EAGL) First Team honoree, the South Lyon, Mich., native was near-perfect on the uneven bars, seamlessly transitioning from the low to the high bar with no hesitation.
The same couldn’t be said for her career decision making. Deemed “indecisive” by her parents, Wendy and Greg, Roach saw the writing on the wall more than two years ago.
“I knew I was going to need a fifth year going into my junior season,” she recalled. “I changed my major a million times because I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I came to WVU as an exercise physiology major. I moved on to occupational therapy, then I was hoping to do a five-year education program, but I missed that opportunity by one point. I was all over the place. I finally settled on child development because that was the closest to teaching. I had been taking science classes for two years, so when I switched to the education track, I knew I was going to be behind.”
After leading the Mountaineers to their league-best seventh EAGL title as a senior in 2012, Roach faced a difficult crossroad – pay out-of-state tuition and complete her education at WVU or transfer to a Michigan school.
Fortunately for the indecisive Roach, her decision was easily made, as then first-year coach Jason Butts extended a fifth-year scholarship opportunity, allowing her to spend one more year at WVU and work toward completing her child development degree.
“I had heard that that option was a possibility, but I didn’t know for sure that it could or would happen,” explained Roach. “When Jason made the offer, I was so relieved. The fact that he has allowed me to have a fifth year and finish my schooling at WVU – I owe a lot to Jason.”
“That’s the great thing about Nicole – she has never expected anything,” countered Butts. “She was raised to be a kid that has to work for everything she’s going to get in life. It is nice to be able to reward someone that comes from that standpoint. She never asked for a fifth year. That was something we were able to work out and offer her, and she was thrilled when we told her. She never, ever expected it.”
Butts is a big proponent of fifth-year opportunities. Tasked with making the monthly schedule for his student-athletes, he understands the stress and workload they deal with for nine months each season.
“To me, a fifth-year scholarship should go to a gymnast who has exemplified good morals, has been a great student-athlete, has bought into the program and has contributed to the Morgantown community,” he said. “I think Nicole fit that description perfectly, and I was thrilled to help her get the support she needed. She gave so much to the program as an athlete, and it was just right for the program to give back and make sure she finished her education at WVU.”
Though her eligibility had been exhausted, Roach still had to balance life in Cary Gym and life in the classroom throughout the past school year, as she moved on to a student assistant role with the team. Not only did she attend every practice, but she also helped the Mountaineers transition into life in the Big 12 Conference.
“I think the coaches believed that if I was given one more year to study and work hard, I would graduate,” she said. “They believed in my work ethic, and they knew I could manage a large workload. This past season, I still traveled with the team and managed my school and gym time. I think Jason trusted that I could handle the responsiblity, given that I had previously for four years.”
Now, with five years behind her, Roach, a two-time National Association of Collegiate Gymnastics Coaches/Women (NACGC/W) Scholastic All-American and a member of the President’s and Dean’s Lists, is set to graduate this weekend with a bachelor’s in child development.
“I’m so excited – I can’t believe I’m finally graduating,” she exclaimed through a broad smile. “I don’t even feel like I’ve been at WVU for five years. It’s crazy to me how fast everything moves. To know that I’m going to be able to hang my diploma on my wall and say I graduated from West Virginia University – wow. There are no words.”
Butts, a WVU graduate himself as he received a master’s degree in athletic coaching education in 2012, understands Roach’s excitement and the delight she has for her WVU education.
“What I loved most when I first came to WVU is how much pride everyone in this state has for the University, the graduates and the alumni,” he said. “It’s just always nice to see someone like Nicole buy into that pride. It’s nice to see the student-athletes buy into this program, this school and this state.
“Nicole is from Michigan, and she wants to live in Morgantown for the rest of her life. This city and this University – once you live here, it’s hard to leave.” Senior Chelsea Goldschrafe (marketing) will graduate alongside Roach this weekend. The WVU gymnastics program congratulates Nicole and Chelsea and wishes them success in all of their future endeavors. Remember – once a Mountaineer, ALWAYS a Mountaineer!