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Important tale finally told

A new program, NCAA After the Game, is illuminating the story of former student-athletes and serving as a resource for them

Martin Jarmond’s experience as a walk-on led him to greater success at Ohio State. Photo credit: Terrell Gilliam Photo

By his senior year at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, Martin Jarmond’s career was an irresistible story.

He was the walk-on to the men’s basketball team who became a two-time captain for a program that pulled a first-round NCAA tournament upset of the University of Southern California in 2002. He was the National Honor Society recipient who respected his role on the scout team as if it were a starting position. He was the proud bench coach who lived vicariously through the success of his young mentees, who played ahead of him in the rotation.

His was the kind of story sports is quick to celebrate. So as a beat reporter covering the Seahawks at the time, I naturally chose Jarmond for a front-page feature on his senior night under the headline, “The definition of a leader.” Everyone who knew Jarmond could tell he was bound for big things.

“Whoever fills that locker (next season) is going to hear the Marty Jarmond story,” Jerry Wainwright, North Carolina-Wilmington’s coach, told me at that time. “And they’re going to have to live up to what he meant in that locker room.”

But while Jarmond’s college contributions became a well-read, feel-good feature that day, the story of his post-graduation successes emerged outside the spotlight.

He’s far from the first student-athlete to be hailed as a player, then find greater success in anonymity. NCAA schools laud the benefits of college athletics daily. But while we preach that the majority of college athletes will go pro in something other than sports, we generally do a poor job of telling the story of that pro career.

Now, a new NCAA program is helping to illuminate that side of the story and develop a relationship with former student-athletes. NCAA After the Game tells the stories of the basketball player who became U.S. secretary of defense and the three-sport athlete who became an emergency room physician. The stories help connect their contributions to society with the sports that seeded the skills that got them there. And it provides current and former student-athletes with a career center where employers seeking that type of work ethic and discipline can recruit.

It’s an important relationship and one that every campus should seize upon. While current student-athletes provide thrilling highlights, inspiring life stories and fulfilling achievements, their accomplishments after those careers lobby for the importance of college sports more than any game-winning shot.

Read the biographies of successful people, and you’ll be reminded that current student-athletes are our next presidents, four-star generals and U.S. Supreme Court justices. At least five have ventured into space.

Their back stories are often told, but the role of athletics in their success is often underplayed — the last line in a bio packed with postgraduate achievements. Yet talk to them, and they quickly become powerful advocates, able to convince anyone that those four years of competition set up four decades of professional success. The early morning workouts, demands on their time and need to think fast in pressure situations gave them an edge early in their careers, and it kept paying off.

You no doubt have heard those testimonies. Nicholas Harriott describes how the hard work, determination and lessons for handling failure he gained playing soccer at Caldwell College prepared him for a career as a microbiology supervisor for the SGS pharmaceutical testing laboratory. Tim Cindric credits his ascension to president of the Team Penske racing team to his time on the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology basketball team as much as the engineering degree he earned.

And Jarmond?

A couple of years ago I finally pursued the sequel to the story I’d already told, and learned Jarmond had earned two graduate degrees after leaving Wilmington. He set fundraising records as an assistant athletics director for development at Michigan State University. And today, in his mid-30s, he is an executive athletics director at The Ohio State University, where he administers eight sports and helped launch the Buckeyes Care program to expose local kids to higher education and urge them to dream big.

At the bottom of his bio on the Buckeyes website is a nod to his Seahawks career. But ask him to reflect on that time, and a more substantial picture emerges.
“So much that you get you don’t realize until after the fact,” Jarmond said. He recognized that the skills that made him successful were developed through athletics: the ability to focus on a goal; to work with people from differing backgrounds; to dig deep in tough situations because you’ve already been pushed through them.

“I would draw on so much of what (coaches) taught me,” Jarmond continued. “You can’t put a value on what that means to your overall development as a citizen and an adult.”

It’s a message everyone in college athletics should broadcast. Now it has a place where the story can be told.