The Boise State gymnasts know they are different than other athletic teams on campus.
They have the highest national ranking at No. 10.
And in the fall semester, the student-athletes on the squad set a school-record with a 3.86 cumulative grade-point average, the highest a Boise State team has ever attained.
The team led all women’s gymnastics teams in the nation in 2015-16 with a 3.81 GPA, according to Boise State data.
The academic success hasn’t happened by accident.
Junior vaulter Mary Frances Bir, a health sciences major, estimates she spends between three and five hours a day on homework, in addition to four hours of daily training in the gym.
When she isn’t in class, on the vault or receiving treatment, you can often find her and her teammates in the Ed Peterson Learning Center, the athletic study area mandated for freshmen and those who want to improve their grades.
Bir doesn’t have to be there; she and eight of her teammates earned 4.0 GPAs in the fall.
But it’s her social space.
“It’s kind of just our hangout spot, but not really,” Bir said. “We’re always studying. It’s kind of funny.”
The Broncos admit they’re low-key student-athletes; their free-time activities include crafting, baking and watching movies. They are not stereotypical Division I athletes and they’re perfectly OK with that.
“We’re definitely different than the other teams,” Bir said. “I think our coaches take pride in that, too. We’re extremely humble and hardworking, motivated and passionate about our sport. We don’t get distracted.”
Boise State (8-4, 4-0 Mountain Rim Gymnastics Conference) is in the midst of a banner year of competition, having reached No. 7 in the nation earlier in the season. The Broncos, who host No. 8 Denver in the regular season finale at 7 p.m. Friday at Taco Bell Arena, have a legitimate chance to secure the program’s first team berth to the NCAA Championships.
In the midst of all the fanfare and expectations that accompany being a successful program, 11 of the team’s 15 gymnasts hold cumulative GPAs of a 3.7 or better.
“We’ve always told them that they’re here to be students first and athletes second, and what a gift they have to be able to pay for their school doing something they love,” co-head coach Tina Bird said. “They’re really here to get an education. They took the ball and rolled with it. They have tradition and they have pride and they want to be the best team on campus.”
Taryn Schutte, the team’s academic advisor, says she marvels at the Broncos’ ability to maintain high GPAs and still be successful in their sport.
“I wasn’t even an athlete, and I didn’t pull off a 4.0,” she said.
Part of the reason academics are important to the Boise State gymnastics team is the athletes realize their future is not in professional sports. They’re realistic and understand that the Olympics are a lot less likely than starting a career.
“Often (athletes) think (sport) is all that there is. But with gymnastics, they understand that it’s more of a short season of your life. ...They’re taking it serious, because they know they want to have that job and that career following college,” Schutte said.
The list of majors for the Broncos is just as impressive as their GPAs: health sciences, criminal justice, biology and kinesiology.
Sophomore Sarah Means, a general business major with a 3.86 cumulative GPA, admits that it’s difficult to maintain high standards in sports and school. But she knew what she was getting into when she signed to compete at Boise State.
“It’s pretty hard to balance. There’s no way around it,” Means said. “(But) that’s one thing our coaches recruit on, is people who are passionate not only about gym but about school as well.”
There is a correlation between brains and gymnastics, according to the athletes. Bir and Means agree that the hard work they put into academics prepares them for the long hours they put in athletically. There is no substitute for determination and the desire to be the best.
“I almost think gymnastics might help them be better students, with the discipline and the long hours. They have to be super scheduled growing up, getting to college,” Bird said. “So when they get to college, they’re used to that regiment, even though they’re not being told what to do all the time. And they take pride in that.”
Rigorous course loads can be too much at times, and there is always the worry of burnout. But the gymnasts also practice the tried-and-true methods of relaxation. Bir crafts bracelets with her teammates. Means watches movies and is particularly fond of the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy.
There’s also this: For these athletes, the best break from studying happens to be hitting the gym.
“I don’t think of gymnastics as job or something like that. It’s more of a stress reliever, in a way,” Means said. “Practice is to get away from school. For that time you’re in the gym, it’s really nice to forget about school and focus on something else.”
What about other sports on campus?
Boise State student-athletes combined to record the highest single-semester grade-point average and the highest all-department cumulative GPA during the 2016 fall semester, Athletic Director Curt Apsey announced in January.
The all-department single-semester GPA of 3.24 eclipsed the previous record of 3.17, set in fall of 2015.
Five teams established program bests in the fall: Gymnastics (3.86), women’s track and field (3.50), soccer (3.49), softball (3.38) and wrestling (3.12).
Additionally, a department record 45 student-athletes earned a GPA of 4.0 in the fall.
Department wide, 77 percent of student-athletes were above a 3.0, either for the semester or cumulative, also a department record and a mark that has increased in each of the last four semesters.
“I truly believe we have some of the best student-athletes in the country here at Boise State,” Apsey said. “Our coaches have helped build a culture that puts a premium on academics, and our academic advising staff works tirelessly to make sure our student-athletes have everything they need to be successful. I am extremely proud of what our 400-plus student-athletes accomplished in the classroom this past semester.”
No. 8 Denver at No. 10 Boise State
- When: 7 p.m. Friday
- Where: Taco Bell Arena
- Senior Night: Boise State will honor its three seniors prior to the final home meet of the season: Mackenzie Bennion (Las Vegas), Diana Mejia (Vancouver, Wash.) and Paige Urquhart (Maple Grove, Minn.).
- What’s next: The Broncos will compete in the Mountain Rim Gymnastics Conference championships March 18 in Logan, Utah. After that, Boise State will be placed in one of six NCAA regionals dependent upon national ranking. The regionals are April 1. There will be six teams in each regional; two teams from each regional make it to the NCAA Championships on April 14-15 in St. Louis.