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Student on a Balance Beam: Double Challenge

Like gymnasts on a balance beam or circus performers on a tightrope, their footing seems sure and their equilibrium steady. In many cases, Whitman College students leading double lives as varsity athletes make their juggling acts look remarkably easy. Make no mistake, however, there is nothing simple or effortless about competing simultaneously in the athletic and academic realms of Whitman. Taken separately, each world is highly competitive and taxing. Combine those worlds and today's student-athletes sometimes find themselves handling a double-edged sword.

Whitman volleyballers three winning seasons in a row: Below, Barby Ream digs the ball while Valarie Hamm looks on.
Fortunately, there are safeguards in place to keep Whitman athletes from stumbling. Footprints at Borleske Stadium, Ankeny Field, and other athletic venues, in fact, are still remarkably fresh, and the waters of Sherwood Center swimming pool well charted. No fewer than four varsity coaches Scott Shields, Cathy Crosslin, Jeff Northam, and Peter McClure are relatively recent Whitman graduates and have first-hand experience with the concept of striving for excellence in both academics and athletics.

Whitman alumni coaches: Peter McClure, '93 (men's golf), Jeff Northam, '88 (men's tennis), Scott Shields, '91 (women's soccer), and Cathy Crosslin, '88 (women's basketball).
Others on the varsity coaching staff harbor their own unique insights into Whitman's demanding blend of athletics and academics, including three coaches with family ties to the College community. Jayne McCarthy, the women's tennis coach for 14 seasons, is married to Jim McCarthy, '63, a member of the board of overseers. Swim coach Jay Coleman is the son of retired Whitman professor and coach Lee Coleman and husband to Shauna Banks Coleman, '96, who completed a stellar swim career at Whitman earlier this decade.

Men's basketball coach Skip Molitor, who has worked on staff at the Whitman Career Center, jokes that some students know him best as the husband of their environmental studies teacher. Amy Molitor, who earned her doctoral degree at the University of Montana's School of Forestry, teaches in the environmental studies program.

Tom Olson coaches one of the most successful ski programs in the country.
Ski coach Tom Olson, while he has no family connections to Whitman's academic side, draws on his own experiences as a student and skier at Alfred University, a small, private school in rural New York.

"Our department is lucky, I think, in that we have a good percentage of coaches who understand the pressures of being a student-athlete here," men's tennis coach Jeff Northam says. "It's something all of the coaches struggle with at times, trying to keep our athletic programs in balance with the academic priorities."