Administrators and coaches open their arms welcoming freshmen and transfers
AUSTIN, Texas -- On August 26, UT Athletics began orientation for the new student-athletics in familiar style, with administrators and coaches welcoming them and their parents to campus with open arms to warmly accept them as the newest members of the Longhorn family.
It is part "thank you and welcome" for their commitment to become part of UT athletics and part adoption, as parents say goodbye to their children and the UT staffers welcome the new athletes into the Longhorn family.
This special orientation session is a event that has happened for years now, and it reminds former Longhorn athletes - who remain on the Texas sidelines as coaches today - of their first times on campus.
"The day before the kids got here, I was remembering what is was like for me to come to The University of Texas and how excited I was," said diving coach and Texas alumni Matt Scoggin, himself an Olympian and NCAA champion while a UT diver. "It was exciting just to travel to the University of Texas. It is the start of their Longhorn careers, and for me, it seems like just yesterday I was doing the same thing."
"Not long ago I sat in these seats and listened to new coaches and administrators, so I know how nervous and excited they are feeling," said assistant women's basketball coach and Texas alumni Travis Mays, who starred as a men's basketball All-American at Texas before being a first-round draft pick in the NBA.
"They should be nervous, as Texas can be demanding and tough, athletically and academically," Mays noted. "I wasn't prepared for Texas, but was given a great opportunity because of the tremendous system was in place to work with me. I brought my desire, work ethic and passion for sports to the classroom and the study table, and The University of Texas did the rest for me. These athletes can do the same and accomplish all that they want, as well, if they buy into the UT system."
Since becoming an assistant coach at his alma mater in 2004, Mays has been asked to speak to the incoming student-athletes and their families on the opening day of UT Athletic fall orientation the last two summers.
Mays' message this year focused on the opportunities that face each and every student-athlete and how important it is for them to listen and to, as Mays said again and again, "plug into this great system which already is in place".
The student athletes are usually in good hands at any University despite the rigors of a Division I schedule. Still the demands of being a Texas athlete can be tougher, but the support group and resources available to them can help the transition from high school to college. The orientation process is just an example of that commitment to bettering the student-athlete at Texas.
"I learned early on that whatever I had done to get me to this point - of getting a scholarship to UT - wouldn't work anymore," Mays noted. "The one thing I hope every student-athlete and parent takes away from orientation is that we have a great system in place here. The systems we have here to help the student-athletes in the classroom and in their sport can shorten the learning curve for all the athletes. At this time of the year, everyone is given the same tools and assistance and guidance. Yes, everyone will have hard days, but there can be no excuses and putting blame on coaches or professors. We all want each student-athlete to do well, and we are all here to help."
"Dr. Randa Ryan (Senior Associate AD for Academic Services) and her staff do an unbelievable job with our student-athlete orientation program," associate head baseball coach and Texas baseball alumni Tommy Harmon said. "After these five days, the new student-athletes feel comfortable in their new settings, have a lot of their questions answered and are more familiar with the entire University experience. Their families are also able to go through the process with their sons or daughters, which is very helpful. The overall program gets the year off to a very positive start."
The process of welcoming the new athletes has been evolving for a number of years, always increasing productivity and opportunities for the newcomers to get comfortable with the scale of the journey they are about to embark upon.
"There are so many similarities between when I was here and what these new athletes go through, it's just a different level of support now," said head women's golf coach and Texas alumni Susan Watkins, who starred in tennis at UT as an undergraduate. "We had resources and people to work with us, but it has just become magnified each year since then. The whole orientation process is much more sophisticated and extended, and truly benefits the newest Longhorns and the returning student-athletes as well."
Orientation is not just an introduction in the UT family and assisting in the academic process. As mentioned by UT men's athletic director DeLoss Dodds and women's AD Chris Plonsky in their opening remarks, orientation is the first time to impress upon the young athletes and their families the magnitude of the Longhorn tradition of respect, good citizenship, perseverance and success. It is also their chance to acknowledge of the span of Texas' support in the local community and alumni all over the country.
"Tradition and respect for The University carries over year after year," said Watkins. "When we and any team have alumni events and have so many former players and families come back, the younger players see how big this Longhorn family and it's programs really are. It's events like the fall orientation that show how much Texas is not just about a degree, but about creating lifetime relationships with your teammates, former players, coaches and members of the UT community."