Wednesday, May 23, 2018

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Pictured, from left, are Paul Abraham, dean of the Eastern Campus; Karlie Russell, current OVAC Scholarship recipient; and Tom Rataiczak, executive secretary of OVAC.

Photographer: E. J. Schodzinski

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OUE-OVAC relationship much more than championships and all-star games

ST. CLAIRSVILLE – When the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference (OVAC) began selecting all-conference academic team members in 2001, Ohio University Eastern helped sponsor the awards ceremony.

One year later, OUE took a giant step in furthering its involvement in the academic aspect of the OVAC by offering more than $250,000 annually in scholarships to qualified members of the academic team.

Fast forward to 2014 and it’s easy to see that the OUE-OVAC partnership and commitment to academics is stronger than ever.  

“We had 228 scholar athletes from 22 participating schools back in 2002,” said Tom Rataiczak, executive secretary of the OVAC. “Last year, we named roughly 2,019 students from 47 schools to the All-Academic Team. This is the largest number of recipients in the history of the conference and is a testament to the hard work of the students as well as the support of parents, coaches and administrators.”

OUE Dean Dr. Paul Abraham said, “This scholarship has provided access to many tremendous students over the years who otherwise may not have had the chance to go to college. We have had a long history of men’s and women’s sports here at OUE, but this is our way of recognizing the scholar-athletes.”

According to Rataiczak, it is not unusual for outstanding athletes in the OVAC to be awarded scholarships, but often they comprise just a handful of the thousands of high school students who participate. The OUE scholarships, he said, continue to help those students who might otherwise have been overlooked.

“This is a huge scholarship program, and the real beauty of this opportunity is that it continues to reward the kids who excel in the classroom while participating on a team. Maybe a kid was the 15th person on the team. Maybe they never got off the bench or wrestled a single match. But they kept their grades up, stayed focused and participated,” he said.

The idea for the scholarship is traced back to longtime OUE Athletic Director E. J. Schodzinski.  

“Encouraging excellent students to enroll at OUE has always been very important to our campus and our mission,” said Schodzinski. “This scholarship, which now covers half the amount of tuition, helps put a high quality education within reach of many of the valley’s finest students.”

One such student is OUE junior Karlie Russell. Russell, who played basketball and volleyball at Union Local High School, is very appreciative of the OVAC Scholarship.  

“I enjoyed my high school athletic career, but I was never the star of the team,” said Russell. “This scholarship rewarded me for my efforts in the classroom and opened the door to a great education at OUE. I am on schedule to graduate in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in exercise physiology and plan to pursue a doctorate in physical therapy afterwards.”

The OUE-OVAC scholarships are awarded to high school seniors who are named to the OVAC All-Conference Academic Team in their junior or senior year. Other eligibility requirements include a final accumulative grade point average of 3.3, a top 20 percent ranking in their graduating class and a minimum score of 23 on the ACT standardized test.

“I have been around athletics for many years but education even longer,” said Rataiczak. “This scholarship could be just enough to spark a kid to go to college and give them a chance to believe in themselves. As a result, this scholarship program continues to be the crown jewel of my career.”

Rataiczak also noted that nomination packets are sent to all OVAC member schools and awards are handed out at the OVAC Athletic Director’s meeting in August annually.

For more information on the OVAC Scholar Athlete Scholarship at Ohio University Eastern, contact Bethany Paul, recruitment coordinator, at 740-699-2348.