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BOGACZYK: Impressive Harless Center Gives Herd Academics a Boost

June 10, 2015

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            HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Previously, when Marshall student-athletes used the phrase "in good standing academically," it could have been taken two ways.

            One, the player was passing and eligible to play for the Thundering Herd. The other definition was what many of those athletes endured in trying to get to a computer to get their work done.

            That all changed last week when the latest piece of the Chris Cline Athletic Complex opened. On the second floor of the 101,000 square-foot indoor facility, the new Buck Harless Student-Athlete Academic Center should only enhance the solid academic performance Marshall athletes turn in semester after semester.

            "It's unbelievable," Herd senior running back Devon Johnson said. "I think a whole lot more people are going to be encouraged to get their studies done in a place like this."

            Even to those who knew what was planned for the academic piece of new facilities that were funded by the Vision Campaign are stunned at the scope and detail in the airy, 14,100-square foot floor that does much more than show the Herd's commitment to academics.

            There are more than 102 computers available for student-athlete use. The Buck Harless staff and its graduate assistants and tutors also have offices and work space in what athletes are calling "The Buck."

            "I never thought I'd see anything like this," said Tara Helton, in her eighth year as director of the Buck Harless Student-Athlete Program for academic advising. "Absolutely not. It was always talked about, but even when you started hearing about the Vision Campaign ... until you saw it and you walked in and it was finished, literally experienced it.

            "And that moment came for me on (June 1). We had about 18-22 football players who had to get work done all at one time. And we were able to do that -- for the first time -- at one time. They all sat there sort of dumbfounded.

            "Even (quarterback) Gunnar Holcombe, who is a stellar student -- 3.6 (GPA), graduating early -- he came up here the other day and said, `This makes you want to come up here and do your work,' rather than going to the library or not having any place to do the work on campus.

            "We have touch-screen computers and the students are amazed at how fast they load. So, it is a dream. It's a dream-come-true for these student-athletes and for all of us who work here, to see it come to fruition, It's very special."

            Previously, the Harless Program was housed in two locations -- the multipurpose room in the Shewey Building, primarily an academic workplace for football, and Room 210 of Gullickson Hall, adjacent to the Henderson Center.

            It was a squeeze play for approximately 350 Herd athletes.

            "In Gullickson, we had about 15-20 computers that worked at any given time," Helton said. "In Shewey, about 8-10. And there were no quiet locations to get good tutoring done. Gullickson had two cubicles. The multipurpose room in Shewey was an open room. There was no quiet location."

            When the MU Board of Governors holds its next meeting June 24 in the Harless Center, here's some of what they will see -- in use by athletes in summer sessions on a regular basis:

            *A main computer lab that seats 64;

            *A 25-person classroom, equipped with a video monitor;

            *A 75-seat auditorium, with video monitor;

            *A "quiet" computer lounge behind glass, seating 34, equipped with several Macs because some Marshall academic curriculums require students to use Macs;

            *A 12-by-22-foot "recruiting lounge" where Herd coaches and academic advisors can meet with prospects and their parents, with large windows overlooking the indoor practice field and Jeff Small Track;

            *Four individual tutoring rooms that accommodate two students;

            *Four group tutoring rooms that accommodate 4-6 students;

            *Offices for Helton and Harless assistants Jillian Boys, AJ Hubbard, Samantha Spurlock and Ashley Parsons;

            *A large workroom for the seven Harless graduate assistants.

            Women's basketball player Aja Sorrells completed her eligibility this past season and is on track to graduate this summer with a business management degree. She spent two years studying and going to advising in Gullickson after coming to Coach Matt Daniel's program from junior college.

            "Working at the old `Buck,' it was disturbing sometimes when you were trying to get your work done," Sorrells said. "There were so many people in there, in such a small area.

            "You come in here now, have a quiet place, have rooms off on the side where you can go do your own work if you want. It's a great thing, very nice. I like it a lot. Without question, it's going to help people be serious about their work. This place is really great."

            Helton said the "attention to detail" in creating the Harless Center impressed her as well, and she offered praise for Scott Morehouse, the Herd's associated athletic director for facilities.

            "The chairs (on rollers), Scott brought in some of our biggest athletes to test them to see if they were comfortable and they'd work," Helton said. "Sandley (Jean-Felix, the Herd's 6-foot-5, 310-pound left tackle) was over here trying them out."

            Helton said Marshall now has one of the best academic facilities for athletes in the country.

            She said one of the Harless staffers recently visited an ACC school "and she said what we have blows away its academic facility.

            "The surroundings are pleasant, and when you have that, you're more willing to take part and learn in an enhanced environment. This place also will serve as a catalyst to these student-athletes wanting to come over here and be surrounded by such a fabulous facility."

            Johnson, pointing toward his final Herd football season -- he's on track to graduate in December in sports management and marketing -- said the new academic center is another plus for the Herd athletic program.

            "It's a whole lot bigger than where we were, much, much nicer and way more computers for us to use," Johnson said. "And you won't have to wait on any other athletes to get finished at a computer before you can use it. There's plenty for everybody. That's huge.

            "More people are going to get their work done in here. In Shewey, you were all crowded in there, with more than 100 players and this little bitty room.

            "There are all these rooms here where people can go for quiet, where it will be peaceful and you can get work done without hurrying up for someone else."

            Marshall has done well in the NCAA's Academic Progress Rate, graduation rate and retention and more than 50 percent of its athletes have GPAs of 3.0 or higher. The Herd continues to increase its numbers for the Conference USA Commissioner's Medal (3.75 or above for a year) and C-USA Honor roll (3.0 or better).

            Helton said the Herd's academic success should be enhanced in the new advising location.

            "We finally have what we needed," she said. "When you consider what we've done before and accomplished, having a great facility like this should only help our student-athletes even more.

            "Quite frankly, it's going to mean that we now have the ability to meet any academic need of our student-athletes under one roof. And we've never experienced that here prior to this. We have ample space, more than enough technology.

            "You go from 25-30 functional computers to just over 100 at their fingertips ... It just means that any and all needs can be met in high fashion. This facility is phenomenal by anybody's standards."

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            The Herd had 31 student-athletes graduate in the 2015 spring semester, including several with remaining athletic eligibility. Here's a list of those who gained degrees with last month's graduation:

            Baseball -- TJ Diffenderfer, Andrew Dundon, Josh King, Kolin Stanley, Clint Wilson

            Men's basketball -- DeVince Boykins, JP Kambola, Steve Smith.

            Women's basketball -- Chukwuka "Chika" Ezeigbo, AJ Johnson.

            Men's cross country -- Caleb Bowen

            Women's cross country -- Lauren Bartoldson, Whitney Lewis

            Football -- Keith Baxter, Joe Massaquoi, Clint Van Horn, Tyler Williams.

            Men's golf -- Tas Sipowski.

            Women's golf -- Korakot "Gone" Simsiriwong, Rachel Thompson.

            Women's soccer -- Berrie Aitcheson-Walker, Myka DeMarco, Cecelia Scott.

            Softball -- Kristina Braxton, Emileigh Cooper.

            Swimming -- Kaley Gregory, Katie Kramer

            Track and field -- Alanna Dawkins, An'drea Gaither, Kearra Haynes

            Volleyball -- Sammie Bane