A Fine Balance

Balance is important in any sport. Think of a gymnast prancing the beam. A quarterback setting up to throw. A golfer addressing the ball.

For Dr. Judith Ramaley, balance is important at Winona State University, too. And it's an essential part of the experience for Warriors student-athletes, who compete at the NCAA Division II level.

The Winona State president is more than a casual observer of intercollegiate athletics. She's a familiar figure at Warriors' games, wearing her trademark purple hat, which debuted during a run to the 2006 national basketball title.

Her interest goes beyond fandom, however. Ramaley is a member of the NCAA Division II President's Council and chair of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference. She has been in the forefront of Division II's "Life in the Balance" philosophy, which encourages equal emphasis on academic achievement, learning through high-level competition, and developing responsibility and citizenship through service.

"For a long time, NCAA Division II was viewed as the division that was 'left over,' not the full-scholarship world of Division I or the small college environment of Division III," says Ramaley, speaking from an office embellished with Warriors memorabilia.

"This platform of balance gives Division II a sense of self as a true, distinctive choice for students, like ours, who want to be connected to daily life."

Over the past two years, the NCAA has phased in guidelines aimed at increasing that connection, and decreasing time spent on athletics. In 2010, contests were reduced in ten sports and length of seasons streamlined. In the future, the 300 Division II colleges and universities may see further reductions in games and hours allowed for athletic-related activities, such as practices and team meetings.

Athletics director Larry Holstad, who has worked closely with Ramaley on Life in the Balance, says that her leadership has been important at a key time for intercollegiate athletics. "She has set the tone of the discussion on the role of athletics at the national, conference, and university level."

Winona State is a model for that discussion. While twelve Warriors teams advanced to post-season play last year, fifteen sports compiled a 3.20 average GPA. Individuals earned a 3.12 average, a tenth of a point higher than WSU students overall. This year, they performed more than 3,000 hours of community service, mentoring at schools, raking leaves, holding a "48-Hour Practice" for clean water initiatives.

Ramaley says that Winona State has been a leader in shaping the NCAA's Life in the Balance principles because they "take the university's mission and make it real."

"Life in the Balance reflects Winona State and our students who succeed here," says Ramaley. "They balance competing in athletics, pursuing an excellent education, and they also want to be part of the community. They become part of something bigger than themselves."