UCCS athletes feel undervalued due to lack of accommodations and community recognition

UCCS student athletes feel undervalued by the community despite having an all-time high of student athletes on campus. 

UCCS athletes across various sports echo feeling undervalued by the school, despite the university having a record-breaking number of 380 student athletes, according to Executive Director of Athletics Nathan Gibson. 

“We don’t get anyone at our games…This is the first year they [UCCS] started charging money at the door,” Antonia Batuello, a senior in lacrosse, said. 

Batuello said that the school charging money to see a lacrosse game is less about financial gain, and more about showing the worth of the team. She attributes a lack of charge to an unequal representation of sports, adding that the lacrosse team doesn’t get a t-shirt night like other UCCS teams do, on top of not having the dance team perform at half-time for them. 

To feel more valued as a student athlete, Batuello thinks more marketing around sports, especially lacrosse, would be helpful. She suggested sending a big email about a lacrosse game as one way UCCS can show they value the students who regularly represent them on a national scale. 

Freshman Krissie Sanders of the women’s track and field team said she felt the same way, adding that the identity of the athlete feels somewhat lost at UCCS.  

Sanders said that student athletes believe athletics are more important than academics because athletics are what they get financial aid for. 

“When you talk to a lot of student athletes, they’ll say ‘I’m an athlete student’…they joke the student part comes last,” she said. 

She noted that student athletes typically feel at home within their teams but fail to receive larger recognition or a sense of community at UCCS. 

She said while it’s nice that student athletes have the athletics website for game schedules, it fails to reach people who aren’t student athletes. In addition to game schedules, gomountainlions.com provides the community with individual and team statistics, team rosters with information about the athletes, live updates on games and highlight articles. 

Sophomore Miles Seminario of the UCCS men’s soccer team noted athletic accommodations are just as or sometimes more important than academics to student athletes when deciding where to go to college. 

The three athletes said that it takes an elevated level of discipline and organization to be a student athlete because of the challenges with maneuvering around team travel, practice, class and schoolwork. 

When asked if it was difficult to be a student athlete, Seminario laughed. “I’m an engineer, I’d say it’ll get more difficult in the future,” he said. 

While there are certain perks to being an athlete already, the three athletes want perks beyond early sign ups for classes, noting that student athletes at other schools have some sort of support in the form of a meal plan.  

Students that represent UCCS on a national scale want a better connection between school and sport. 

Seminario and Sanders are in favor of the school taking initiative to connect school and sport for athletes with things like school-organized study halls, which is done at other universities.  

Seminario mentioned that his team organizes a study hall for freshman and others who need help in classes, which he said helps freshman adapt to the college student athlete lifestyle. 

Student athletes get a paper at the beginning of each semester that professors must fill out to allow excused absences from class for sports. Batuello said that it’s a mixed bag in practice, adding that some professors are very understanding, but she has heard cases where professors, specifically for labs, are stricter. 

She said she sometimes feels athletes must choose who they are going to make mad—their professors or their coaches. Sanders added that she had to drop a class that only allowed one excused absence. 

Seminario said he and others haven’t had any trouble getting the sheet filled out or enforcing it. He said that teachers have been quite graceful in his experience. 

“I think the hardest part is your mental health,” Sanders said. 

Mountain Lion Strong, led by Program Director Jessica Kirby of the UCCS Health Sciences Department, maintains the mental health of student athletes by growing a sense of community. The program is unique from other colleges and has earned a NCAA Sport Science Institute Spotlight

Kirby said the program is meant to build mental skills and discipline in athletes at UCCS, as she recognizes the high amount of time management required for athletes to perform. 

“My goal… is to help athletes with the tools, education and resources to build a healthy foundation so that they have more enjoyment in their sport,” she said 

Kirby wants to build community support beyond athletes’ teams. To do so, she created an extended support system by connecting student athletes with  events catered to them. 

Despite this, Kirby said that half the battle of making a program effective is in the hands of the athletes. Throughout the month, there are optional events where athletes can show up to connect and play games, but Kirby said these events often have low turnout. 

The program does require athletes to attend a mandatory workshop meant to develop mental wellness once a month.  

Kirby has hope for the program’s cultural growth over time, specifically in getting athletes out to optional events, but noted the program is only in its second year. 

Student athletes at UCCS appreciate the support that Mountain Lion Strong gives, but still feel as though UCCS undervalues them regarding other accommodations. They want the university to show more support by better advertising all games equally as opposed to delegating it specifically to the sports department. 

The crowd at a lacrosse game on Mar. 24. Photo by Lillian Davis.