Last week at the Louisiana Board of Regents meeting, we discussed many of the matters brought forward in the recently concluded 2021 Louisiana Legislative Session. However, one important topic at the meeting was LSUS Athletics. I talked about the recent success of the LSUS athletic programs, steered by our current Athletic Director, Lucas Morgan. The teams, which compete in the NAIA, have played their way into the national spotlight, winning Red River Athletic Conference regular season and tournament titles (16 in all since 2018), 13 national tournament appearances across all sports, including the 2018 NAIA Men’s Basketball Final Four and the 2021 NAIA World Series of Baseball. Our coaches have won conference and national awards, and standout athletes such as Fu’tra Banks (2021 NAIA All-American in Women’s Basketball), Payton Robertson (NAIA All First Team in Baseball), and Jeff Garrett (2019 NAIA Men’s Basketball Player of the Year) show that our players stand among the best in the nation.
What makes these achievements even more special is the fact that LSUS’ student-athletes had a combined GPA of 3.04 for the spring 2021 semester. When Morgan took over as AD for the university in 2018, the teams had a combined GPA of 2.64. In an era when colleges and universities are routinely maligned for their handling of the academic careers of the their student-athletes, I tip my hat to all of our coaches and staff for emphasizing that success begins in the classroom, not just on the field of play.
LSUS student-athletes bring so much to our community. They take part in events such as the holiday Hugs for Kids toy drive (in association with the LSUS Alumni Association), and the annual Veterans Parade at the State Fair, among others. Our coaches, in addition to working to develop our student-athletes, also lead initiatives to help build our communities, including summer camps and games under the RRAC Champions of Character banner, embracing the five core values of respect, responsibility, integrity, servant leadership, and sportsmanship.
Our student-athletes also play a vital role in our campus life. Many of them are international students, so they enhance the diversity of our campus community. We have representation from the UK, Brazil, Spain, Greece, and Germany, to name a few. Our local and regional students learn as much from them as our international athletes do from being here in the United States, and the shared cultural touchpoints make for a more robust college experience for all. These same international athletes routinely participate in non-athletic campus events such as the Spring Fling Mardi Gras parade, Fall Fest, Homecoming (soccer player Daniel Maierhofler from Australia was the 2020-2021 Homecoming King), and the recent Black History Month event highlighting the history and legacy of the Negro Baseball League. Because many of them live at Pilots Pointe Apartments, it’s not uncommon to find them enjoying well-earned downtime at the University Center or playing pickup games in the HPE Building.
As Chancellor, I am committed to supporting these student-athletes and providing them with the tools they need to make the most of their time at LSUS. Our Student Success Center plays a pivotal role in their academic development, offering special programs and tutoring helping them keep up with the scheduling demands of away-game travel and coursework. Student-athletes were also a major consideration in our decision to acquire and renovate Pilots Pointe. We have also invested in a new baseball building along with a new soccer facility, which provides our teams with excellent facilities for training, meetings, and game preparation.
University support is one thing, but leadership from the Athletic Director and the staff is what brings everything together. This is why Lucas was 2018-19 Red River Athletics Conference AD of the Year and is in the running to be the 2020-21 recipient. He is also committed to finding new ways for LSUS to gain prominence on the national stage, such as his support of the new LSUS eSports team, led by head coach Matthew Parks, which allows our students to compete in a burgeoning but highly-competitive sporting culture. I encourage you to come watch the Pilots play. Our teams are champions, on and off the field of play, and they are the true embodiment of the term student-athlete.
Dr. Larry Clark | Chancellor, Louisiana State University at Shreveport