Body, Mind, and Soul: The APU Triple Advantage

by Chris Baker

Some institutions of higher education boast the nation’s best athletes. Some claim the brightest students. Those that train their student-athletes with equal rigor in the classroom and on the field rise to an elite class among their peers. APU’s history of athletic success, highlighted by an unprecedented eight consecutive Directors’ Cup awards, would hold little value without its solid reputation for outstanding academic achievement.

Last season, 11 of APU’s 19 sponsored teams posted grade-point averages (GPAs) higher than 3.0, with 4 of those higher than 3.3. “We have bright student-athletes who accurately reflect our student body. Our growth over the past two decades has moved the university into a circle of schools with great academic reputations, and our athletes lead the charge,” said Gary Pine, director of athletics. “APU provides an outstanding education, and our athletes excel in the classroom.” During the 2011–12 athletic season, 11 student-athletes earned honors as CoSIDA Capital One Academic All-Americans, and 7 more joined the ranks of the Academic All-District team. In fall 2012, 13 football players became members of the Great Northwest Athletic Conference All-Academic team, while a pair of men’s and women’s soccer players received CoSIDA Capital One All-Academic All-District recognition.

These honors represent the character and caliber of Azusa Pacific student-athletes—serious scholars seeking a unique environment that allows them to reach their physical, academic, and spiritual goals.

Shannon and Amanda Hardy, sophomore twins, exemplify this drive for excellence. Heavily recruited in high school for their grades, they could have chosen any college on their wish list. The soccer-playing sisters looked for a place where they could not only contribute to a team, but also immerse themselves in an environment that would give them the skills and experience to achieve their career goals. “Our GPAs coming out of high school were a lot more valuable than our soccer abilities,” said Amanda. “We wanted a college with a cinematic arts major. That was our first priority.”

Well aware of the disappointment and disillusionment many collegiate athletes face when something sidelines them from the sport they thought would carry them through life, the Hardys carefully considered each university on their list holistically. “There are so many great players that go to NCAA Division I schools, and when things don’t work out, they’re unhappy,” said Shannon. “We didn’t want that to be us. We wanted to go somewhere that would help us grow as people, because we know that playing soccer only lasts four years.”

APU’s cinematic arts program stood out as one of the best offered at Christian colleges nationally, and that recognized quality tipped the scales when the twins made their final decision. Led by expert faculty members steeped in field experience, the courses cover more than the basics. Students and teachers engage in thought-provoking discussions about how art and culture impact one another and the role of the Christian artist in the process. APU’s proximity to Hollywood, the heart of the industry, allows them to secure A-list internships that give them broad, firsthand exposure before graduation. The Hardys’ creativity and penchant for media production dovetailed perfectly with the energy and expertise they found in APU’s Department of Theater, Film, and Television. “In my production class, which includes major team projects that can be challenging to organize, they set the standard for their peers in the midst of soccer season,” said Warren Koch, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Theater, Film, and Television. “They had the highest grades and produced the best projects. They possess a strong sense of discipline that comes from sports, and they apply those skills in the classroom as well.”

“Sports help me manage my time. We don’t have an option to put off homework, because we only have a limited amount of time outside of practice, games, and road trips. If you want to play sports, it takes extra commitment to stay up until 3 a.m. when necessary to make sure the work you do is A material,” said Amanda. “So while playing a sport doesn’t make school any easier, it builds discipline, and that’s key.”

That focus guided the sisters as they helped the Cougar women’s soccer team to a 29-7-3 record over the past two seasons. Shannon scored a goal in her collegiate debut, while Amanda has paced the Cougars with 11 assists the past two years, and they posted a combined 6 goals and 12 assists in 18 starts. Despite their demanding schedules, they boast 3.94 and 4.0 GPAs, respectively.

The Hardys’ intensity and commitment on and off the field reflect the mindset of Cougars campuswide. Those who choose to live, learn, and play at APU understand the elevated demands on their minds and bodies and meet the challenge with passion and tenacity. This legacy of balance between the mental and physical makes the university’s forthcoming transition to the NCAA Division II smoother than most, as APU’s already high standards coincide with the association’s myriad regulations governing academic achievement. The student-athlete who graduates from Azusa Pacific walks away with the triple advantage of a well-trained body, mind, and soul, and the distinction of a world-class education.

Chris Baker is assistant sports information director in the Athletics Department. [email protected]

Originally published in the Spring '13 issue of APU Life. Download the PDF or view all issues.