Jaguars Win Off the Court, Too
With a regular season win last week against St. Ambrose, the Jaguars—just two seasons in the conference—are fulfilling a promise of regional recognition for excellence on and off the court.
“I couldn’t be happier to see our vision come to fruition so quickly,” said Dr. Aurelio Valente, Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students who, along with Dr. Gebe Ejigu, led the charge to bring competitive intercollegiate athletics to GSU four years ago. Seven teams accompanied the university’s first freshman class, and the Jaguars were born.
“One of our major goals in launching athletics at Governors State was to increase campus pride. This win comes just in time to celebrate GSU Jaguars Spirit Day on February 21 alongside our first conference match-up. It doesn’t get any better than celebrating our students excelling in the classroom and on the court,” Valente said.
To pump up pride across campus and visibility across the region, the university adopted a Jaguar as a team mascot. “Jax” prances and parades at games and student activities to represent the school’s competitive spirit. The university also saw athletics as a way to improve its visibility, as well as a to boost traditions, enrollment, and develop new fundraising opportunities.
In addition, organized sports positioned Media Studies students to up their broadcasting game with the support of the university's media department. The Digital Learning and Media Design (DLMD) is a cutting-edge HD production facility used by outside producers to create video content published and distributed worldwide. DLMD invested $150,000 in additional broadcast infrastructure for sports to realize the vision of student-produced sports broadcasts.
Media Studies faculty teamed up with DLMD staff to create a new internship program in which students direct the broadcast, operate cameras, switcher, video servers, audio, graphics, instant replay, as well as on-air play-by-play and color commentary.
Students also helped build a new studio set with areas for sports reporting and interviews.
“The experience of actually setting up and executing live broadcasts of the games is invaluable for our student interns,’’ said Charles Nolley, Assistant Vice President for Digital Media. “They put all of their classroom learning to the test in a live television environment, honing skills while gaining confidence and a deeper understanding of both systems and processes.’’
Media students are preparing for major markets, said Deborah James, Assistant Professor and Coordinator of the Media Studies program. “They will have skills applicable to the Chicago media industry.”
The broadcasts have earned praise from unexpected places.
A family in Kentucky recently complimented the DLMD team on an outstanding student-produced basketball broadcast of the Olivet Nazarene University game at Governors State.
“It was by far the best video production, the best use of graphics, replays, etc. and the best student announcer we have heard over the last several years,’’ the family wrote. “The students should receive an “A" for that game. I’m sure that they probably don’t realize sometimes how far their good job extends, but it made it all the way to Kentucky.”
In 2015, the seven-sport Jaguars joined the 14-team Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference (CCAC) and immediately began setting records with men’s and women’s basketball and women’s volleyball.
The next year, the entire community roared with excitement as GSU student was the first ever to compete in a national championship. Stephanie Clarkson competed against 300 of the best runners in the NAIA Cross Country competition.
Fast forward to January 2018 when the men’s basketball team sprinted up the national charts to be ranked at 24. Three weeks later the team climbed to 18 with an 11-game winning streak.
With a 101 to 83 victory over St. Ambrose last Wednesday, the Jaguars advanced to the national tournament in Sioux Falls, South Dakota next month.
“This is unbelievable,’’ said Head Coach Tony Bates, noting the Jaguars had, ironically, been predicted to finish the season in 11th place. “This win says to the region that Governors State has sports, and we’re competitive. There are teams that have been in the league 15 to 20 years that have never gone to nationals.’’
The CCAC, one of 24 National Association of Intercollegiate Association (NAIA) conferences, is comprised of colleges and universities in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, and Wisconsin. GSU is one of the few public institutions, and the only Illinois public institution, in CCAC's portfolio.
Bates credits the team’s success with members’ winning attitudes. “We looked for students who wanted to lead, to create something and not follow because there was nothing to follow,” Bates said.
Meanwhile, with support and enthusiasm from GSU President Dr. Elaine P. Maimon and university leadership, Valente and Bates are planning to add more sports in the near future.
Jaguars play again Wednesday, February 14, at home against Indiana University at South Bend.