January is filled with both honors and observations

Some January honors and observations while still mourning the end of the Steelers’ football season, as well as the end of the McCutchen baseball era in Pittsburgh.

n Penn State’s athletics program is among the best in the nation, according to the Learfield Directors’ Cup standings at the end of the fall season. The recognition system was formed in cooperation between nation’s athletic directors and USA Today, awarding points based on each college or university’s finish in NCAA Championships across all sports.

The Nittany Lions rank second overall behind Stanford (523 points) after appearances by women’s volleyball, women’s soccer, field hockey and men’s and women’s cross country in their national tournaments; volleyball and soccer brought home conference titles, and the football team won the Fiesta Bowl. That added up to 386 Cup points, the best of the four Big Ten conference teams who finished among the top ten.

Championship success is important, but so is classroom success, so perhaps the more important statistic related to PSU athletics is the NCAA’s November 2017 report on GSR (graduation success rate.) Penn State comes in at 90 percent, with nine of the University’s programs graduating 100 percent of their athletes; that’s better than the 87 percent national average, and significantly higher than the student body Federal Graduation Rate, which is under 70 percent, but does not account for transfers.

Saint Francis also boasts a 90 percent GSR in a conference that averages 88 percent of student-athletes who graduate. But even beyond earning a diploma, the university has made it part of its mission to help students set their goals to “Become That Someone” they are meant to be. The inspirational and spiritual messaging includes a speaker series, encouraging students including athletes to pursue excellence in their academic and other pursuits, as well as offer service to and care for others. Our region is cultivating positive role models in addition to sports stars.

n NASCAR continues to award its off-season accolades, inducting its 2018 Hall of Fame class this coming weekend in Charlotte. The class is headlined by longtime team owner and engine builder Robert Yates, who passed away this past November; and three-time Winston Cup Champion crew chief Ray Evernham, among others.

Evernham has seen the sport from many angles including Jeff Gordon’s pit; but also as a team owner, broadcaster and ambassador/advocate for the sport.

Gordon may be eligible to join Evernham for induction as early as 2019, depending on whether the Hall counts his stint filling in for the injured Dale Earnhardt Jr. during the 2016 season. Technically, drivers must be retired for two years to be considered. Gordon and Tony Stewart (eligible for the 2019 vote) are both first-ballot musts for induction.

Cup racing returns with the Daytona 500 on Presidents Day weekend, marking the 60thanniversary of the “Great American Race.”

Goodman Shaffer can be reached at kellie@bedfordcountychamber.org. Her column appears on Tuesdays.

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