This semester I have seven football players in my Southeast Asia geography class and seven players in my world geography class. Six of those eight players are in both of my classes. (watch this BYU Athletic Dept video about one of these students: Chris Jackson Story) I've taught plenty of student athletes in my day, but never this many at once. Years ago geography major and star tackle David Oswald took two of my classes and did very well. He never missed a class unless it was a Friday travel day. He set a high bar. Since then when student athletes have slacked off, I have often tried to inspire (or shame) them by sharing David's story.
This semester I noticed that some of my football students had not been attending class on no-travel Fridays and that some of those had also missed several class periods in a row. I don't take roll so I don't normally focus in on students who are skipping (especially in my World Geography class of 115 students--all wearing masks) . I figure they will regret it come exam time since a majority of my exam questions come from lectures. But then I noticed that some had struggled on the first exams or had missed map quizzes and turning in atlas exercises. I worried that they might not pass the class. I decided to make a call to the Student Athlete office who often reaches out to professors to see how the student athletes are doing. I first inquired to know if all Friday's before games were considered no class days and if watching game films took precedence over attending class. I was emphatically told by one of the advisors that other than travel days classes always come first and that players only check into the team hotel after 4:00 pm on Fridays.
Next morning I got a call from Trevor Wilson (Associate Dean of Student Life/Director of the Student Athlete Life and Learning Center) who thanked me for reaching out and who assured me that he would talk with the student athletes. I don't know what he said, but it worked. Over the next week attendance was back up, students contacted me to arrange to make up missed work, and a couple even came up and thanked me for providing some needed mid-semester motivation.
One day, one of the students came to my office hours to talk about strategies to pass the class. He took a class from me last semester and so I knew more about his academic challenges. I also knew that one day the Student Athlete office sent one of their student tutors to my class with this student to help him improve his note taking skills. My classes are PowerPoint heavy full of slides I have taken. They lack a lot of text (mostly just terms and prompt questions) and so many students struggle with knowing how to take notes from me using the slides to describe, define and illustrate geographic ideas and terms. Just as we were talking about effective note taking, another student from the class dropped by. I had recently hired hm as a research assistant to help with some Indonesian translations. He is an excellent student. Before I even thought to tell him to come back in a few minutes, I thought to ask him if he would be willing to share his notes with this student who struggled taking notes. He then would be able to focus on the images and the descriptions and less on trying to figure out what to write down. My kind RA said he would be happy to share the notes (which he normally types into a google doc). The timing of this all makes me smile.
I later inquired of the Student Athlete office if it would possible to hire my RA as a tutor/note taker. They said yes. (Tutors are always offered to athletes, but while the tutors may be geography majors, they are not always enrolled in the classes they are tutoring for). My RA then offered to hold a weekly review session and we decided that if there were other players who were interested they could join too. The only rule that I made was that if they stopped coming to class and were only relying on the notes and review session, those services would be stopped. So far this arrangement has been a good thing.
Within a week or two of all of this happening, I received the following e-mail invitation.
You have been recognized by Trevor Wilson, Associate Dean of Student Life/Director of the Student Athlete Life and Learning Center as a valuable part of the overall BYU experience for many of the students here on campus. Chad, you exemplify the characteristics that we strive to teach our young men in the football program. We appreciate your service to BYU and as a small token of our appreciation, on behalf of Coach Sitake and our staff, we would like to personally invite you to get a behind the scenes look of our football program and serve as an Honorary Guest Coach for our final home game this season against Idaho State University on Saturday, November 6, 2021. As a guest coach, we are honored to provide you and two guests with complimentary tickets and a game program.
Prior to the game we would like to invite you and your personally invited guests to attend our practice tomorrow on November 2, 2021 where you will meet Coach Sitake, our coaching staff, and our players.
For tomorrow’s practice, our Football Academic Advisor, Jim Hamblin and myself will plan to meet you in the football lobby on the second floor of the Student Athlete Building (SAB) . Feel free to bring whoever you want on this day. We will take you on a personal tour of our wonderful athletic facilities and answer any questions you may have regarding the football experience of our student athletes. Afterwards we will escort you down to the field so you can watch our football practice which will end at approximately . Once practice concludes, we would like to introduce you to our coaches and staff and take a group picture.
For Game Day, Jim Hamblin (801)362-0231 will plan on meeting you and your two guests approximately 2 hours prior to kick off to eat a complimentary meal at the Alumni Tent (West parking lot of the stadium – across from the Cougar). Then you will walk to the stadium for a wonderful tour of the press box. Afterwards you will be escorted to the sidelines to enjoy all of the pre-game festivities. Finally, just before kickoff, Jim will escort you into the stands and to your reserved seats where you can watch the game and cheer on the Cougs!
Go Cougs! Beat ISU!
Jasen Ah You
BYU Football, Executive of Recruiting & Player Personnel Coordinator
This was out of the blue. I had no idea such a thing existed. I was later told that these recognitions are student athlete generated. I was honored. I was also surprised because I was just doing my job. Truth be told, I think 90 percent of BYU professors do similar things every day to help their students. I know there are some inflexible folk who are not willing to accommodate final exam flexibility (which has happened to members of the Model UN team who always travel to a competition in NYC in mid April) or won't allow any make-up work (hopefully they have become more flexible during this pandemic), but most are devoted to helping our students succeed.
I was also amused by the offering because as my family knows, I am not a big football fan or a big BYU athletics fan. When the kids were younger we attended (because that is what good parents do, even if it is not your favorite fall Saturday activity) maybe one game per season (especially when second cousin Riley Nelson was quarterbacking), but in recent years the kids have shown little interest in going (we have however continued to attend occasional men and women soccer games). I asked if anyone in the family was interested in the Tuesday practice (what would we talk about with coach Sitake?--strategy? recruiting prospects? favorite plays?) and no one was interested. However Joel and Will (who have attended football games this year with friends) thought the Saturday activities sounded fun. So I said yes. It turned out to be a great day for all three of us.
We were met my the fun-loving, energetic, knows everyone Jim Hamblin. Who presented me with my special BYU VIP lanyard.
Then while heading to eat in the Alumni Tent west of the stadium, Jim called over former BYU quarterback Robbie Bosco for us to meet. Luckily I knew his name and I somehow remembered that he led BYU to a national championship in 1984. I remembered that tidbit of BYU football trivia, because in August 1985, BYU was invited to compete in the Kickoff Classic against Boston College (BYU won) in the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, New Jersey. I was working in DC at the time and some of us decided it was a good excuse to go to NYC for the weekend. We went to the game and we also went to see Sunday in the Park with George on Broadway (which was more memorable than the game--although joking with BC college fans near us about their excessive beer drinking and our abstinence provided some laughs). Anyhow, I was conversant enough to tell Robbie that I had seen him play in New Jersey. Not sure if he was impressed.
We then enjoyed a delicious brunch catered by Magelby's (Breakfast burrito, french toast covered in syrup, raspberries and cream, and bacon). That was followed by a tour of the stadium press box. Joining us in all the festivities was the other honoree--Sam Brown the director of BYU's International Student and Scholar Services. He brought along his father and son.
Jim showing us the spectacular view from a loge on the third of four floors in the press box.
LaVell Edwards stadium is always ranked as one of the most beautiful settings for a college football stadium.
We then moved down to the south end zone to watch the players warm up. While hanging out we shook hands with Athletic Director Tom Holmoe and with BYU President Kevin Worthen. Joel also was able to high five a bunch of ward member friends who were some of that fanatic fans on the front row behind the goal post. The boys also got to wave to their cousin Ryan up in the student section.
Also part of this photo session was a photo taken by Jim of the six of us that later showed up on the jumbotron.
Chris Jackson is #5. I took a list of all of my students, with numbers and positions. It was fun to watch them (at least 5 of the 8) hike, block, tackle, catch and run.
We then moved up to our nice 40 yard line seats on the west side.
I told the boys they did not need to get me a shirt like this for Christmas.
Retiring Director of Dining Services Dean Wright was honored at half time. He is the creator of the famous cougar tails--two foot long maple bar. He got his start at USU and was Mom and Dad's bishop for a time in the 18th ward.
In honor of upcoming Veterans Day, the BYU Marching Band played the songs of all six military services including the new Space Force (insignia on the far right).
Jim had told us not to leave during half time. We thought maybe they would zoom in on us for a candid shot, but instead they flashed up the photo taken before the game started. They mentioned both of our names and honored us for helping the student athlete program.
Third to fourth quarter stretch.
We left with about 7 minutes remaining. BYU won (59-14). Before the game started the boys asked my prediction for the final score, I said 52-7. Not bad for an absent minded professor.
The person giving the opening prayer blessed a whole long list of everyone who helped pull off an event like today--including the ushers, security personnel, concessions people, press, announcers, fans, band, cheer squad, students, coaches, trainers and of course the players. Even though I'm not a big football fan, I really liked the feel of today. The prayer reminded me that community is a good thing and that no mater what our job may be we all have something to offer that enriches the lives of others.
Comments from my Instagram post about today: