Balancing the Ball: How Georgetown Basketball Became a Beacon for Recruitment and Success

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Balancing The Ball: How Georgetown Basketball Became a Beacon for. Recruitment and Success

by Dianne Williams Hayes

It was televised basketball games that gave Georgetown University its following of teen-agers who sport the Hoya's sweatshirts and hats on googobs of American streetcorners. But it is the university's academic program that is responsible for attracting the growing number of minority students who are applying to the university.

Successful basketball program aside, Georgetown has scored some additional points for keeping its bargain with students off the basketball court as well, through its minority recruitment and retention efforts.

The number of African-American applicants has increased steadily over the last eight years, with 799 applicants in 1987 and 945 in 1995. In 1994, the university received 1,023 applications from African-American students -- the largest number in any given year.

Minorities represent about 24 percent of the student population, 9 percent of whom are African American. Asians, at 10 percent, represent the largest minority group on campus. While the graduation rate is 88 percent for the overall student population among students who remain at the institution for four years, the rate is 92 percent for African American students.

Made 'Top 100'

Founded in 1789, the Jesuit institution's mission has changed from one of exclusion to inclusion. In the 1970s, Georgetown, like many predominately white institutions, stepped up its efforts to create a more diverse student body. Ironically, recruiters only needed to look outside of the university's doors in the majority African American District of Columbia to find a large pool of candidates.

According to Admissions Officer Nia D. Kilgore, although the university recruits throughout the world, most of its applicants come from the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and West Coast regions of the country.

"Little kids may wear the paraphernalia, and the sports program does receive a great deal of attention, but from an admissions standpoint, 95 percent of the students know of the academic program and the high quality of academics," said Kilgore. "For minority students, most of them want to come because they know that it is one of the top universities in the country."

In fact, Kilgore suggests that the rigorous course requirements, especially in divisions such as the law school, limit students' ability to participate in the sports programs that have gained so much attention. Georgetown's law school has earned a reputation for graduating high numbers of African-American students, ranking third last year in the Top 100 list published by Black Issues In Higber Education.

African-American students are primarily concentrated in the College of Arts and Sciences, with 700 applicants this year -- half of whom are applying for the pre-med program. The programs in business, foreign service, languages and nursing are also among the top picks by students.

The Sports Factor

Since the days of Sleepy Floyd, Pat Ewing and Reggie Williams, there has been a symbiotic relationship between sports and the minority community. However, at many institutions, that relationship has meant a winning team for the university, but not always a solid education for the players.

Georgetown Coach John Thompson has gained a national reputation as one of the early advocates for ensuring that athletes also become students. In addition, his presence at a time when there were few African-American coaches at majority white institutions served as an additional draw to the university. Georgetown, in fact, was the first mostly white Division I university to hire an African-American basketball coach.

The deflated basketball perched in his office is a reminder to anyone who enters that a sports career, like the ball, is only as useful as what's inside.

"He tells students when they are coming in, that the rubber is worthless without the nine pounds of air," said Bill Shapland, the university's senior sports communication director. …