North Central College’s commitment to student-athletes has helped to build an athletic program that ranks among the best of NCAA Division III schools. Cardinal teams have won more national championships than all other College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin schools combined.
A significant ingredient of the program’s continued excellence has been continuity among teacher-coaches. The nearly 100 years of combined service of head cross country and track and field coach Al Carius (H) ’06, associate track and field and cross country coach Frank Gramarosso and head softball coach Jim Kulawiak have been crucial to the long-term success of these programs.
Several other programs have benefited from stability at the top, including football, women’s volleyball and women’s track and field and cross country. In 2008-2009, track and field brought in the 99th, 100th and 101st individual national champions, thanks to Jake Winder ’10 in indoor pole vault and Rachel Secrest ’10 in pole vault during both the indoor and outdoor seasons.
“A key for us has been to not only hire quality coaches but to retain those coaches,” says athletic director Jim Miller ’86. “Top programs are built on a foundation of consistency in recruiting and coaching.”
During 2008-2009, the Cardinals captured five College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin championships and four programs finished among the national top 10 in their respective sports: football, men’s cross country and both men’s and women’s indoor track and field.
North Central’s investment in facilities has been another key component to the Cardinals’ sustained success. Benedetti-Wehrli Stadium, Zimmerman Field and the Res/Rec Center, when added to the nearly 80-year-old Merner Field House, have placed the College among the leaders in Division III. These top-notch facilities are vital to bringing in student-athletes from suburban Chicago high schools that have modern stadiums and field houses. The Res/Rec Center will house both the men’s and women’s track and field programs while also offering additional athletic training and practice and workout space to benefit virtually all of the College’s 22 athletic teams.
A wide variety of academic and leadership programs introduced in recent years to North Central student-athletes have given the Cardinals a distinct edge over rival schools in attracting and retaining talented young men and women. The Varsity Course, created in 2006, assists first-year students in easing their transition to North Central and its academic program while focusing on key decision-making skills and fostering a supportive, community atmosphere. The Student-Athlete Advisory Committee improves communication between student-athletes and the athletics department and helps organize service projects and spirit events. The addition of structured study time has given student-athletes the opportunity to seek academic guidance in a monitored setting. Student-athletes can also utilize and improve their leadership abilities through regional and national conferences conducted by the NCAA.
“We’re offering leadership and academic support opportunities here (at North Central) that the rest of the CCIW does not offer,” says Miller. “Paired with stability in coaching and excellent facilities, our athletic program can compete with the best in the nation.”
North Central College finished the academic year ranked 30th among all Division III institutions in the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics Directors’ Cup standings.
Last year, 14 of 22 varsity programs achieved a cumulative grade-point average of 3.0 or better. Eight teams were honored by various national organizations for academic achievement, up from seven in 2007-2008.
Annual Report 2009