Finding Balance as a Student-Athlete Transfer

For the 2016-2017 sports season, eleven transfer athletes have places in the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps varsity athletic teams—ten from Claremont McKenna College, one from Harvey Mudd College; six sophomores, five juniors.

Catherine Leon CM '19, a defender and midfielder for Athenas soccer, and Nick Wheeler CM '18, a wide receiver for Stags football, are both transfers from National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I Davidson College in North Carolina. As native Westerners, Leon from Oregon and Wheeler from Idaho, coming closer to home was a big perk in their decision to transfer to CMC. 

“[CMC is] very similar academically [to Davidson], but I transferred mostly to be back west, as I’m from Idaho,” Wheeler said.

Both Wheeler and Leon have found adjusting to CMC academically, to be fairly standard and a continuation of their studies at Davidson. Wheeler is an economics major and Leon an economics-accounting and Spanish double major. One significant difference, though, is CMC’s emphasis on summer internships and support for career development, which they both noted as a positive change in comparison to Davidson.

“Here kids do internships after every summer,” said Wheeler. “But CMC is more helpful and they work with you to get internships, so it’s been an easier transition career-wise.”

Granted, as most student-athletes admit, and as Wheeler echoed, their grades are typically better grades during their respective sports season.

“Out of season, you have all of this free time to procrastinate, but during season you know you have to do work or else you’re screwed, so it kind of helps, honestly,” said Wheeler.

Sports-wise, transferring to Division III also meant getting a chance to play a different pace. During the season, these athletes find themselves just as busy as their Division I counterparts, but in the off-season, they look forward to being able to be more than just student-athletes.

"I wanted more of a balance," Leon said. "I'm not going to play after college, so, realistically, I wanted to enjoy my college years and be closer to my family."

Both Wheeler and Leon plan on joining some clubs at CMC and looking into summer internships and study abroad experiences, and even participated in the new student Wilderness Orientation Adventure trips with other incoming students in the fall.

Meeting new people at CMC isn’t generally a challenge, but when you have to live off campus at Brighton Park due to housing shortages, truly adjusting can make for quite the challenge. Fortunately, being a fall student-athlete has facilitated the social transition for both Wheeler and Leon.

“I feel really lucky that my sport is a fall sport and I found my transition a lot easier because I came in and made friends right off the bat [in preseason],” Leon said. “I definitely think it would be a lot different if I wasn't an athlete. I don’t mind being off-campus because I have a little escape back to my room if I want that.”

“I can’t imagine coming as just a student,” Wheeler echoed. “It’s harder coming in as a transfer as a junior, but the other transfers [at Brighton Park] are easy to make friends with and having the football guys makes it way easier.”

For non-athlete transfer students, living at Brighton Park has its advantages and disadvantages, but for Wheeler, Leon, and the nine other transfer student-athletes, participating on a sports team has greatly complimented their transition to CMC. Already having a place and group of friends on campus through their respective teams makes finding that school-sport-social balance that much easier.

Be sure to welcome these transfer athletes and get out to support the Stags and Athenas at future events. On Saturday, Oct. 15, Leon and the Athenas will take on Occidental College at 11:00 a.m., and Wheeler and the Stags will face California Lutheran University at 1:00 p.m.