As an integral part of the District of Columbia’s Flagship University, the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics at UDC provides experiences that enhance the comprehensive development of students. Therefore, the student-athlete experience emphasizes opportunities through academic achievement, learning in high-level athletic competition, and development of positive societal attitudes in service to community. The balance and integration of these different areas of learning opportunity provide Firebird student-athletes a path to graduation while cultivating a variety of skills and knowledge for life ahead.
Legendary former college football head coach and philanthropist Joe Paterno once said: “Success without honor is an unseasoned dish; it will satisfy your hunger, but it won’t taste good.” To that end, the University of the District of Columbia Athletic Department’s commitment to excellence is not without integrity in its “Life in the Balance” mission. The 2013-14 academic year was no exception.
Three East Coast Conference team championships. Four track & field All-Americans. An ECC Athlete of the Year and Coach of the Year. Nineteen All-ECC performers. Certainly, these are all extraordinary accomplishments over the course of a year; however, they would not be nearly as fulfilling if not for these very same athletes’ exploits off the field and in the classroom.
Track & field standout Kaydian Jones is a prime example. A Kingston, Jamaica native and Journalism major, Jones’ career is the epitome of what the NCAA student-athlete experience ought to be. Not only was she a two-time 4x400M Relay All-American (2014 Indoor & Outdoor) who helped her relay team set a school record and finish ranked No. 4 in the country this spring, she is also a Capital One CoSIDA Academic All-American. Twice named ECC Outdoor Track & Field Athlete of the Year (2013 and 2014), she also managed to maintain a 3.53 cumulative GPA, serve as President of the UDC Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and two years as Vice President of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. For her efforts, she earned the ECC and UDC’s most prestigious awards. The ECC awarded her the Excellence in Community and Character Award for student-athletes who have distinguished themselves through positive actions and behaviors consistent with the NCAA Division II attributes of learning, service, passion, sportsmanship, balance and resourcefulness. The UDC Athletic Department presented her the Reslyn Woodruff Henley Memorial Award – given to the senior student-athlete who has exhibited nobility of character, deep loyalty to fellow students or teammates, high team spirit and a demonstrated ability to inspire teammates, and who performs well in the classroom in addition to his or her athletic exploits.
Miguel Uzcategui is another case in point. A two-time First Team All-ECC Men’s Tennis performer, Uzcategui is also a two-time Capital One CoSIDA Academic All-American and this year’s recipient of the ECC Male Scholar-Athlete of the Year Award. He helped his team to a No. 2 seed in the ECC Men’s Tennis Championship, finishing with a league mark of 5-1 at the No. 1 singles spot. Meanwhile, he has maintained a 3.94 cumulative GPA over his academic career as an Electrical Engineering major at UDC.
All in all, 24 student-athletes graduated from UDC in 2013-14. Eighty-six student-athletes made the Director’s List (earned 3.0 semester GPA or better for Spring/Fall 2013), 36 made the Dean’s List (earned a 3.5 semester GPA or better while maintaining a 3.0 or better cumulative GPA), and 11 qualified for the 4.0 GPA Club.
Firebird student-athletes also participated in many community service outreach projects throughout the year. The Men’s Soccer team was particularly active in the community this year as head coach Matt Thompson, assistant coach Danny Wadeson, and the over 20 young men engaged in five different service activities. Thompson continues to foster a growing relationship with KEEN (Kids Enjoy Exercise Now) where the student-athletes play soccer with young children of varying characteristics and/or disabilities. Twice, the Firebird soccer team visited St. Coletta of Greater Washington to work with KEEN this year. They also volunteered at the DC Rock ‘n Roll Marathon, Georgetown Ministry (where they visited the homeless), and completed a very successful Youth Day promotion before one of their games.
Meanwhile, women’s basketball took part in three community service projects: Overnight Adventure, Special Olympics, and Food & Friends. The Overnight Adventure was hosted by the Hyattsville, MD Department of Parks and Recreation’s “Xtreme Teen” Program and featured a number of recreational activities for close to 50 local teen girls. Starting a 12:30 a.m., for two hours, the women’s basketball student-athletes put together a basketball clinic where they ran drills and acted as referees and coaches during scrimmages. Also, during Halloween weekend, the Firebird women’s basketball team volunteered at Special Olympics DC’s Fall Sports Classic on October 30th and at the local Food & Friends on November 1st. At the Fall Classic, they supervised several local student-athletes, guiding them through basketball drills such as target passing, spot-shooting and dribbling. At Food & Friends, they renewed a relationship the program has had since the 2007-08 season by helping with everything from packaging meals for delivery to unloading and sorting canned goods and food items for the kitchen.
The men’s soccer and women’s basketball team were named the co-winners of the UDC Athletic Department’s third annual Competition Cup. The winner is chosen based on three criteria: academic performance, attendance at other UDC sporting events and community outreach.
While women’s basketball accomplished a great deal off the court this year, the Firebirds also enjoyed one of their most successful seasons in program history on the court in 2013-14. They finished with an impressive overall record of 21-8, securing the school’s first ever East Coast Conference basketball championship and earning an NCAA Division II East Regional Tournament appearance as a No. 5 seed. Along the way the Firebirds were ranked as high as No. 20 in the USA Today Coaches’ Poll and No. 3 in the East Region. Also, junior guard Telisha Turner and junior forward Denikka Brent were both named First Team All-ECC, Turner surpassed 1,000 points scored for her career late in the season, and head coach Lester Butler, Jr. surpassed 150 career coaching wins on Senior Night with a 76-68 victory over Dowling on Feb. 26.
Also in the winter, the Firebirds were heating up on the track in 2013-14, as the track & field team captured its second consecutive ECC Indoor Championship on February 22nd in South Huntington, NY. With just 12 athletes on the team, the Firebirds relied on their dominance in the sprint events to once again reign as conference champions. Kaydian Jones was the team’s work horse as she contributed a whopping 32 points for the Firebirds in the Championship meet. She won the Long Jump with a distance of 5.69M, won the 200M dash in 25.45 seconds, and she ran a crucial opening leg to help the Firebirds’ 4x400M Relay Team secure first place. She shared the Most Outstanding Athlete of the Meet honor with Roberts Wesleyan’s Rachel Hust.
Not only did the Firebirds win their second ECC championship in a row, but Head Coach Alton McKenzie was awarded his second straight Coach of the Year honor. His team produced 17 First Team and six Second Team All-ECC honorees across 20 different track & field events. Also, the 4x400M Relay Team of Kaydian Jones, Jerily Benjamin, Marlena Wright and Simone Grant, went on to compete at the NCAA Division II Indoor Track & Field Championships at JDL Fast Track in Winston-Salem, NC. There, they finished as the 6th best team in the nation with a time of 3:49.40, and were each individually named All-Americans.
The momentum from its spectacular Indoor season would carry over into the spring Outdoor Track & Field season, as the Firebirds continued to get better and faster as the season progressed. The first major highlight of the season came on April 4th when the 4x400M Relay team became the first event champion at the Colonial Relays in school history with a time of 3:46.51. About two weeks later, UDC would complete the sweep of Indoor/Outdoor ECC Championships with its first ever ECC Outdoor Track & Field Championship in Queens, NY on April 19th. Once again, Jones led the way by contributing 48 (28 individually) of the team’s 158 total points. She won both the 100M and 200M dashes, finished 2nd in the Long Jump and was a key member of both the 4x100M and 4x400M relay teams which both took first place. She was named co-Most Outstanding Female Athlete of the ECC Championship meet, and she was also named the Outdoor Track & Field Athlete of the Year for the second straight year.
The success in Outdoor Track & Field did not stop there though, as just five days later, UDC took part in the 120th inception of the world-renowned Penn Relays. There, in front of a captive audience of over 49,000 people, at the world’s largest and oldest track & field relay carnival, the 4x400M Relay team ran a time of 3:44.99 to finish 6th in the Women’s College Final.
The track & field season culminated in yet another outstanding weekend performance on May 22nd-23rd by the 4x400M Relay Team of Jones, Benjamin, Wright and Grant at the NCAA Division II Outdoor Track & Field Championship in Allendale, MI. This quartet shaved nearly two seconds off of their season-best time to finish 4th in the nation with a new school record time of 3:42.63. Again, they were named All-Americans for their performance.
2013-14 was a banner year for University of the District of Columbia Athletics. Best of all, the department’s extraordinary athletic achievements continue to come as the Firebirds stay true to the Division II platform – Life in the Balance.
The Firebird is indeed rising in the nation’s capital. We hope you’ll join us for the ride in 2014-15.