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Academics try not to take a backseat at Final Four

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, April 5, 2013, at 1:54 p.m.
  • Updated Sunday, August 25, 2013, at 9:02 a.m.

If Wichita State junior Nick Wiggins ever needs help with anything, he knows he can call Gretchen Torline, Wichita State’s director of athletic academic services.

But he also knows if he doesn’t take care of his homework for classes, she will — very clearly — let him know she’s irked.

“She yells and screams,” he said. “She definitely yells and screams a lot. And she definitely sounds like my mom to me. She’s like a mom to me at this university.”

There was a time when Torline, in her 22nd year at WSU working with student-athletes, cajoled the athletes. Gently urged them to make their tutoring appointments and mentoring meetings.

“When I first started, I was closer in age to them,” Torline said. “.… Now I’m the mother. There’s a lot of tough love. When they make me mad, I don’t hold back. I let them know when I’m upset, then it’s forgotten and I love them to pieces.”

Torline’s goal and that of her office is to keep all Shocker athletes on task and pointed toward graduation.

This week she traveled to Atlanta with the basketball team, which plays Louisville in the Final Four on Saturday. It’s a thrilling, jam-packed time, but Torline will also host study hall periods, administer tests and insist on them doing schoolwork.

Even though the past month has been a whirlwind for the team, Torline never stopped pushing them to focus on school.

Just over the past week, the Shockers balanced national and local media interviews, radio and TV interviews, practice, lifting weights, video sessions and travel.

The Shockers have traveled so much, including to St. Louis for the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, then, as part of the NCAA Tournament, to Salt Lake City, Los Angeles and now Atlanta for the Final Four.

“I want them to stay up with their studies and make sure they try to somehow focus on schoolwork,” Torline said. “This is such an exciting time. It takes a lot of concentration on their part. I keep reminding them that it will be over with at some point.”

And school will still be there.

“This is probably not Gretchen’s funnest time of the year because she’s bombarded with a lot of different things,” Wichita State freshman Ron Baker said. “She has to keep us on track with academics. We’ve missed a lot of class the past two weeks, going on three. Her job is getting a little bit tougher, but she’s doing her best to keep us on track.”

And the athletes appreciate her efforts.

“I want to give a lot of thanks to Gretchen,” Wiggins said. “She helps us with school and stuff…. She always keeps us up on how we are doing on our study hall hours, and she makes sure we were on our books. Sometimes she’d come to where we watched film (and say), ‘Did you e-mail that teacher?’ ”

Baker said he’s mostly caught up with work for classes, but he’s still behind on information from missed lectures. Classmates have helped him by giving him their notes, and his teachers keep him up-to-date on requirements.

Torline, who has two daughters and a son, considers herself a mother 24 hours a day.

And like any other mother, she wants to see her kids, including the Wichita State athletes, succeed.

“They know I want them to graduate,” she said. “When the ball stops bouncing, I want them to have something else to fall back on…. We want them graduating. If they play in the Final Four on the way, it’s all icing on the cake.”

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