The sun wasn’t up yet, but Dawson Montfort was.
Montfort, a sophomore first baseman for the Shawnee Community College Saints, was already well into his first round of lifts by 6:30 a.m. Jan. 28 at Xtreme Physique Health Club in Jonesboro. Montfort said he has to get up early to make sure he has time to fit everything into his day, which includes a lot of studying. Montfort’s coach, Greg Shepherd, will not let him shrug off his duties as a student to focus more on baseball. Shepherd said they have to be able to do both.
“Class will always come first before a game,” Shepherd said. The fall 2012 semester marked the 16th year the baseball team has had a cumulative grade point average of more than 2.9, in fact they finished the semester at 3.25 on a four-point scale.
Shepherd said he attributes his team’s consistently strong academic record to several factors, the most key being involvement.
“We have daily sheets that they would have to take around and have signed to make sure they are in the classroom,” Shepherd said. He said the players have to check in with assistant coach Adam Smith each day to pick up their attendance sheets. Shepherd requires his players maintain good attendance. Montfort, who has a 3.8 GPA, said this attendance policy has helped keep him on track with his classes.
“That was probably the biggest factor in helping me with my grades,” he said. However, Montfort said balancing school and baseball is not always easy. “It’s almost like having two jobs,” he said. Freshman left-fielder Pete Plesko echoed this sentiment.
“Probably the most challenging aspect of it is kind of working through a wall,” Plesko said. He said when he gets home he is tired and would just like to relax, but that is not really an option. “When that practice gets over, you’ve got to start thinking about what has got to get done for the next day,” Plesko said.
When Montfort finishes with his early morning workout, he heads straight to class and spends any time between class and practice studying and doing homework. After practice, he puts in hours at a part time job and then goes home to finish up any leftover schoolwork. He said he understands that he gets what he puts in to both his classes as well as baseball.
“You work hard you see benefits from it,” he said. “If I work had in class, I’ll end up with A’s. If I do all of my work on the field, we will end up with a win.”
This fits right in to Shepherds plan.
“My whole goal is for them to have the best GPA possible,” he said.
Shepherd said he stresses academics so strongly because he wants his players to achieve all they are capable of after graduation. He said having a strong academic record helps his players transfer to four-year schools. He said many coaches want a strong student as well as a strong athlete.
While it is not always easy to do, Shepherd does not pull kids out of class for games. Because he is the team’s academic advisor, one of four advisors at the school, he schedules each player’s classes so they do not conflict with games.
Shepherd said the result of his high standards both on and off the field are hard to compete with, particularly when it comes to academics.
“There is not a junior college in our area, and very few throughout the county, who year-in and year-out will have even compared to what we have done,” he said.
Shepherd expects more of his players than he does of the average student at Shawnee.
“We expect them to exceed what other students are doing here,” he said. “We want them to go above and beyond.”
— Isaac Smith can be reached at (618)-734-4242