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How two Polar Bears nearly became America's favorite student-athletes.
The NCAA's Elite 89 Academic Recognition Award program is well named. Its recipients truly are among the elite of American student-athletes. To even qualify, one must reach the national championship of his or her sport, a daunting task that requires dedication, passion and the desire to be great. To win the award, however, one must also have the highest cumulative grade-point average of all those competing, an equally impressive feat that speaks to the true purpose of intercollegiate athletics.
The number 89 in Elite 89 refers to the number of fully sanctioned NCAA sports across all divisions. Considering that a student-athlete can only win the award once each year, those 89 individuals comprise a shockingly miniscule percentage (.002 percent) of the approximately 420,000 active NCAA student-athletes each year.
This year, junior mechanical engineering major Nathan Rosenbaum received the Elite 89 award for cross country, and third-year pharmacy major Cody Lovejoy received the award for the second straight year for wrestling, making Ohio Northern University the only college or university in the state of Ohio, and one of only 11 nationwide, to boast multiple Elite 89 winners.
This summer, the NCAA sought to draw attention to the award program by asking America to vote for its favorite Elite 89 winner. A three-round online competition ran from July 7-18 beginning with all 89 recipients. After an initial round of voting, the field was winnowed down to 30 semifinalists. Another round of voting saw the field cut to 10 finalists, and a final round of voting declared the winner.
Tremendous support from the ONU community saw Lovejoy and Rosenbaum survive the first round. During the second round, fans of the duo took to Facebook and Twitter to spread the word and propel them both into the finals, where Lovejoy finished in seventh place with 952 votes and Rosenbaum eighth with 872. ONU was the only school to produce two finalists.
Artwork used to promote both Cody and Nathan on social media.
"It was an incredible experience watching as the Ohio Northern family committed to our cause to help Cody and me both reach the finals," says Rosenbaum. "We were competing against some very large and high-profile colleges and universities but still managed to make it. I am humbled by the efforts of all those who voted and shared our story through social media and word of mouth."
ONU's Office of Communications and Marketing teamed up with ONU Athletics to promote the competition on many of the University's digital platforms. ONUSports.com, ONU's Facebook and Twitter sites, and emails helped inform the University community during the summer period when many students tune out from college for a few weeks.
"This contest was a neat experience. It was fun to see how far I could get from the support of the communities that I am a part of, both at home and at Ohio Northern," says Lovejoy.
Since the Elite 89 program's inception during the 2009-10 academic year, ONU has had three recipients. In addition to Rosenbaum this year, and Lovejoy the past two, Matt Fleming, BSBA '14, won for soccer in 2012-13. ONU's continued success is a testament not only to the University's outstanding academic and athletic programs, but also to the students, faculty, coaches, teammates and alumni who provide tremendous support for one another in all endeavors.
"I am very thankful to all those that have helped me accomplish all that I have achieved: my parents for teaching me the value of hard work, my coaches for teaching me mental toughness, my professors for pushing me to give my best performance, and everyone that has supported me throughout," says Lovejoy.
For Rosenbaum, the competition has helped him reflect on the journey it took win the Elite 89 award.
"My coaches and the faculty at the T.J. Smull College of Engineering have been incredible assets in my education here at ONU. They have made balancing my athletic and academic work possible," he says. "Through their commitment and hard work, I've been able to be a student-athlete without having to sacrifice any of the experiences of the typical college student. I'll always know that I have my teammates, coaches, professors and the entire ONU family behind me in whatever I choose to do. That's more than I could ever ask for from my college experience."