Sixteen Pittsburg State student-athletes were honored Thursday morning for their work on and off the field.

Sixteen Pittsburg State student-athletes were honored Thursday morning for their work on and off the field.

Thursday marked the 13th annual PSU Outstanding Student Athlete Recognition ceremony, with the Gorillas’ best and brightest joining family and Pittsburg State staff to celebrate their accomplishments.

“It’s a huge honor to be nominated,” said Aubrey Jones, one of the 16 athletes honored. “When the ball stops bouncing, we’re going to need to rely on hard work off the court. When we do well in the classroom, it reflects well on our coaches, our teams and our university.”

The NCAA has spent much of the past few years marketing the idea that most athletes will go professional in something other than sports, and Jones, a center on the Pittsburg State women’s basketball team, said that message especially held true for Division II athletes.

“I’m not playing with future WNBA players,” said Jones, a graphic communications management major. “I’m playing with future doctors, physical therapists and lawyers.”

Joe Hart originally started the event with his wife cooking the food for the honorees.

“I thought the senior athletes who did a great job in the classroom deserved the recognition,” Hart said. “It hadn’t ever been done before.”

Hart hosted the event for five years before announcing that he was finished holding it. By the end of the day, Hart said four local businesses stepped up to take over the event, with the first caller, Commerce Bank, earning the rights to host the recognition. Commerce has hosted the event for the past eight years.

“Being a student-athlete is a difficult role,” said PSU President Steve Scott. “People expect a high level of performance on the field, on the track, but also in the classroom.”

Pittsburg State has routinely been among the best schools at producing student-athletes at the Division II level. The Gorillas’ 48 ESPN The Magazine All-America selections rank first among Division II schools.
All 16 athletes were recognized for achieving at a high level in the classroom, with Jay Nunez receiving an extra plaque for holding a 4.0 GPA through his college career.

Pittsburg Mayor Patrick O’Bryan wrapped up the ceremony by reading a proclamation that declared Thursday as National Student Athlete Recognition Day in Pittsburg.

“As a former student and athlete, neither of which I excelled at, I applaud the work and maturity that you all have shown,” O’Bryan said. “Young people like you make Pittsburg an exciting place to live and to work.”

Jones, who had a 3.6 GPA, said the athletes were thankful for the community’s support.

“It’s the foundation behind ‘once a Gorilla, always a Gorilla.”

• Athletes honored Thursday include: Megan Ballock, women’s cross country and track and field; Lindsay Birchfield, softball; Eric Gorenc, golf; Aubrey Jones, women’s basketball; Jessica Jones, softball; Brock Lohr, football; Cassie Martin, softball; David Martin, men’s track and field; Bo Merrill, golf; Jay Nunez, football; Caleb Pazzie, football; Mike Roberts, football; Mason Stout, men’s cross country and track and field; Chris Swartz, football; Kyle Thacker, golf; and Annie Thurber, softball.