Sports vs. School: How Athletes Balance Success on Both Sides

As UW moves ahead to the Sweet 16, it gives inspiration to all upcoming athletes of sports success.

But what happens to the shining stars once their time in the spotlight is over.

Most athletes walk into college dreaming of making it to the big leagues. But reality is, most do not.

That's why it's so important to balance sports with school.

"That's every kid's dream. Of course, I was going to work for it," says former UW basketball player Charlie Wills.

Wills worked on his basketball skills for years. A highlight: he played on the team that went to the final four in 2000.

But his dream didn't end the way it began.

"[I] played no regrets in college, tried my best to do it professionally or semiprofessionally and it didn't work out. So I decided it was time to move on."

Wills is now working in real estate at First Weber Realtors.

He's one of the many athletes who move into the workforce.

Ron Vincent played hockey at UW when they won the national championship in 1981.

Now he's the executive director of the Wisconsin Sports Development Corporation. But he remembers some of his former teammates weren't as goal oriented.

"I've got a bunch of cases of guys where you just knew the only thing they wanted to do was play hockey," says Vincent, "They majored in 'eligibility' we used to call it."

Typically with the hopes of going pro, which few do.

"The numbers are pretty low so it's pretty unrealistic if you're coming here and that's your only dream," says Steve Malchow, UW Sports Information Director, "I think that's why our staff and our coaches emphasize the importance of getting a degree."

In the last 5 years, the UW-Madison overall student athlete graduation rate averaged about 70%. It falls just short of the total student average of 73-75%.

"When a student athlete shows up here and they are wide eyed about 'How do I get to the pros?' you have to keep reminding them, 'That's a great goal, keep trying to get better, but as you're doing that, make sure you're taking care of your bookwork too because that's probably the career you're going to fall back into,'" says Malchow.

Both Wills and Vincent agree they're living proof that hitting the books gives the greatest reward.

"Certainly you have to dedicate yourself in your sport but work on the education it's important," says Vincent.

Both Wills and Vincent currently do sports related work (Wills started broadcasting for Wisconsin Public Television and ESPN radio pregame) but admit the transition from athletics to the working world isn't easy.

UW has the National W Club, which helps recently graduated athletes network with former athletes, who are now in the workforce.


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