What does it mean to be a Division III collegiate athlete?
Hard work on and off the field, community service and striving for success in the classroom are all things that four UW-River Falls Falcons came up with when asked this question.
Greg Ponick, a senior at UWRF who has competed in two sports, and is finishing up his track and field career this spring, said he has learned it takes a lot of extra time to be able to do what he loves to do.
“To be a Division III athlete, you have to put a lot of hard work and dedication into what you love to do, especially for your school. In the end, that hard work that you put in pays off for achieving many goals and successfully receiving a high reward in the competition,” Ponick said.
These athletes put in this work on the Div. III level without receiving scholarships, which makes competing at the Div. III level different from Div. I or Div. II. The athletes play for purely the love of the game. Starting sophomore quarterback Ryan Kusilek, who is in the middle of his Falcon athletic career, says that it is why he feels Div. III athletics is extraordinary.
“I think being a Div. III athlete is a very special thing. There’s obviously no scholarships, so everything we do for our respective sports is because we are self-dedicated and self-determined,” Kusilek said.
This year UWRF will be taking part in the Third Annual NCAA Division III Week. Div. III week is an opportunity to publicly celebrate and promote the ways in which Division III members have provided a well-rounded collegiate experience not only for approximately 180,000 student-athletes currently playing sports at the Div. III level, which is the NCAA’s largest division, but for the hundreds of thousands of their predecessors who have competed since Division III was formed in 1973-74, according to the NCAA. This year is also the 40th anniversary year for NCAA Div. III athletics.
To celebrate this year, the Falcon Athletic Department will hold events scheduled on Saturday, April 12.
From 1-3 p.m., the Athletic Department will sponsor a community celebration at the Ramer Field Sports Complex with Hunt Arena to be used in case of bad weather. Events include family yard games and the chance to watch the UWRF softball team play UW-Superior or the UWRF track & field Invitational. Both of these events are set to start at noon. Those attending are encouraged to donate canned goods that will be donated to the River Falls Community Food Pantry.
Assistant Athletic Director Crystal Lanning said UWRF has typically tried to tie in community events with a home sporting event to get people to go to the games. This is also the first year athletics has aimed at tying in the community to help celebrate accomplishments of Falcon athletes during Div. III week.
Lanning, who has been involved in Div. III athletics her entire professional career, said that the academic achievements of the athletes and their service to the community are two things that have really impressed her.
“I have seen so much extra work being put into the academic time. More athletes are getting above a 3.0 GPA. Athletes only need a 2.0 to be eligible for their sport but 3.0 is what we have kind of set here as the standard and we have seen that number grow every semester,” Lanning said.
Junior soccer player Alex Swatloski said it has been repeatedly preached by their coach to help out in the community and stay successful in the classroom. “To me, being a Div. III athlete is all about playing the sport that I love. I have put a lot of time into it over the years in a competitive environment and still have time to work towards my dreams off of the field, in the classroom.”
Lanning said that this year more than ever teams have been involved in the community. One team that has especially stood out in this area is the women’s basketball team. Kate Theisen, a freshman on the women’s basketball team, said she was intimidated about coming to college and having to meet a new team but has gained transferable skills, friendships and the Div. III level has given her the opportunity to keep playing the sport she loves.
“Being an athlete at the Div. III level gives you the opportunity to do so much for the community. The basketball team here has really instilled that into our values and being able to give back in any way is just phenomenal,” Theisen said. “All in all being an athlete is so much more than playing your sport day in and day out, which is a common perception, but it’s about the relationships you form and the values you gain by being a part of a community.”