BOONE, N.C. – As Appalachian State Athletics aims to enhance the comprehensive excellence of its sports, one of the top priorities under Director of Athletics Doug Gillin has been to increase the support offered to all Mountaineers student-athletes in the areas of health, wellness and sports performance.
In the past nine months alone, App State has announced a long-term agreement with AppOrtho, hired its first full-time sports nutritionist, welcomed home a renowned strength and conditioning coach, dramatically increased mental health awareness programming and doubled down its volunteer efforts in the community. The department is currently forming a new performance team (more on that below) and will hire a full-time staff psychologist within the next few months.
“The health and well-being of our student-athletes is our top concern as a college athletics department,” Gillin said. “By taking a holistic approach to their well-being – in the classroom, in training, in competition, in the community and on campus – we aim to give them all the tools they need to succeed and live healthy lives. This not only helps them pursue excellence on the fields or courts, but also sets them up for success long after their athletic careers are over.”
Sports Medicine Restructured
As part of the emphasis in these areas, App State is restructuring its sports medicine division to enhance its care for student-athletes in every sport.
Jon Mitchell, who has directed App State’s athletic trainers and served as the men’s basketball athletic trainer since 2014, is being promoted to Associate Athletics Director for Student-Athlete Health and Well-Being. He will step aside from his role with men’s basketball to provide more administrative oversight of the entire sports medicine division.
In September, the Mountaineers extended their partnership with AppOrtho to provide general medical and orthopedic care for all App State student-athletes, and plans are in place for an even greater daily presence of team physicians on campus in the near future.
Performance Team Established
App State is also establishing a new performance team that Mitchell will oversee. The performance team, which will meet together weekly to discuss strategic plans and individual student-athlete issues, is designed to be an integrative approach toward comprehensive excellence that aligns six critical units: sports nutrition, sports medicine, sports psychology, student-athlete development, academic services and strength and conditioning.
Growth in Mental Health Awareness
App State has addressed the topic of mental health in a variety of ways over the last year. The department implemented mental health screening during the freshman orientation process, hosted Courageous conversations on mental health topics, and participated in the #StrongAintWrong Sun Belt initiative in which App State SAAC representatives sold wrist bands with all proceeds going to recent graduate and New York Jets safety Doug Middleton’s “Dream The Impossible” initiative that supports children in underserved communities while emphasizing the importance of mental health.
The upcoming addition of a staff psychologist, which will make App State one of the first “Group of 5” FBS schools with such a position, will provide additional counseling and educational services for Mountaineer student-athletes.
Sports Nutrition Bolstered
Sports nutrition has been a key emphasis at App State, as the department hired its first full-time nutritionist, Florida State grad Marisa Faibish. Since arriving as App State’s director of performance nutrition in October, Faibish has bolstered the AppFuel program that provides healthy snacks to student-athletes and has dramatically increased the quantity and quality of nutrition and hydration education offered to student-athletes.
Big Hire for Strength and Conditioning
In the area of strength and conditioning, App State welcomed back one of its own with the hire of 1990 graduate Anthony Glass as director of strength and conditioning for Olympic sports. Glass, who served as Ohio State’s director of strength and conditioning for the past 17 years, is a renowned coach, speaker and author who brings a wealth of expertise to the Mountaineers.
In the Blue Cross & Blue Shield Mountaineers RISE program, led by director of student-athlete development Pierre Banks, a holistic approach to the health and well-being of App State student-athletes includes bringing in experts and partnering with campus resources to educate, train and facilitate conversations with students on the topics of sexual assault and violence, race relations and diversity, various mental health issues, the effects of drugs and alcohol on performance and Sudden Cardiac Arrest education. In addition, RISE offers career exploration and development programs to help student-athletes successfully transition to life after athletics.
Increased Volunteer Activity
App’s student-athletes have been more active in the community than ever, doubling their number of recorded volunteer service hours in 2017-18 from the previous year with over 4,500 hours.
Student-athletes at Appalachian receive leadership training from leadership coordinator Reggie Hunt via Habitudes, a program that combines images, relatable stories and experiences into leadership development curriculum and lesson plans that resonate with today’s young adults, equipping them to navigate through life’s challenges and opportunities.
Competitive and Academic Success
The holistic approach to health and well-being is paying dividends in competition and the classroom. Football claimed its second straight Sun Belt title and third straight bowl victory in 2017, wrestling won its third straight Southern Conference championship and sent four individuals to the NCAA Championships, men’s cross country claimed the 2017 Sun Belt crown, and several other sports made big strides in win-loss margin from the previous year. This spring was the 12th straight semester that App State student-athletes averaged a 3.0 semester GPA, and their 3.12 cumulative GPA was the highest in recorded history. App has claimed the Sun Belt’s Graduation Rate Award twice in the last three years, and the Mountaineers led the league with 237 combined student-athletes on the 2016-17 Sun Belt Commissioner’s List (3.5+ GPA) or Academic Honor Roll (3.0-3.49 GPA).