Former Wallace State Student-Athlete Marcus Johnson Recognized by Alabama State Board of Education as Student Success Story

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HANCEVILLE – Wallace State Community College alumnus Marcus Johnson was celebrated as a community college success story during the April work session of the State of Alabama Board of Education.

Wallace State President Vicki Hawsey Karolewics provided an introduction for Johnson, a former star of the Wallace State Lions basketball team, now at Samford University.  "Marcus represents all those students who have achieved academic success in higher education as a direct result of athletics,” she said.

Before his junior year in high school, Johnson moved from Washington, D.C. to Raleigh, North Carolina. There, he led Millbrook High School to the state championship game as a junior, but was ineligible to play his senior season because of academic reasons.

Wallace State men’s basketball coach John Meeks, who has recruiting ties in North Carolina, became aware of Marcus’s basketball ability and offered him a scholarship to Wallace State despite Johnson not playing his senior season and being ineligible to perform at a four-year institution.

Johnson flourished once he arrived in Hanceville, both on the court and in the classroom.

He averaged 9.9 points per game and led the team with 88 assists as a freshman at Wallace State; as a sophomore, he led Wallace State to a conference title and to the NJCAA Division I National Tournament in Hutchinson, Kansas. As a sophomore, he averaged 13.5 points per game, and was named a 2014 ACCC/Region 22 All-Tournament selection.

Two months after winning the conference title, Johnson graduated Wallace State with six fellow teammates, all of whom finished with 3.0 GPA’s or better and all of whom have moved on to universities.

"I can tell you, as president, it was one of my proudest moments when I asked all the sophomore basketball team members to stand and be recognized at commencement last year,” Dr. Karolewics told the Board.  "For you see, it is our tradition to showcase the success stories of our graduates every commencement.”

Johnson is now at Samford University, where he has just completed a successful junior season playing for the Bulldogs.

He is majoring in sports administration at Samford and insists he was better prepared for the tough academic standards at Samford than some of his current teammates, mainly because of the strong academic background he developed at Wallace State.

"Coming from a big city, the first couple of weeks at Wallace State were hard for me, but once I settled in, I knew the decision to go to Wallace State was one of the best I had ever made,” said Johnson.  "It was the first time I actually focused on making good grades. The environment at Wallace State where everyone cares about you, from the instructors to the coaches, helped me want to make good grades. It was one of the first times in my life where I consistently made A’s and B’s. If not for people showing me they cared at Wallace State, I don’t know if I would have been as successful."

Johnson said that he was better prepared for academics at Samford than other teammates who transferred in at the same time.  "They were behind the 8-ball as far as credits and things like that. Wallace State definitely put me ahead of the game and had me prepared for the transition,” he said. "It wasn’t hard for me to buckle down and understand things. Coach Meeks always told us we had to bring it in the classroom the same way we brought it on the court.”

"It’s not all about basketball,” Johnson said. "Colleges look at your transcript and make sure you keep your grades up. I knew I didn’t want my grades to be a reason a college could turn me down out of Wallace State.”

Not only do athletic programs add to the college experience for both athletes and the general population, and provide for greater diversity on campuses, they are initially the primary motivation for many students to pursue higher education.  According to the NJCAA, approximately 70,000 students participate in athletics at community college institutions each year.

According to a 2012 study on Retention Among Community College Student-Athletes, which appeared in the Community College Journal of Research and Practice, athletics at the community college provide a parallel extension of the open access mission by providing opportunities for enhancement of individual academic and athletic skills, building social and human capital skills, and development of personal discipline through both academic study and athletic participation. It is well-established that students who are engaged are more likely to persist, and the findings of this study – which showed that non-athletes were less likely to persist to sophomore in one year than athletes – back that up. Moreover, the findings from this study suggested that student athletes out-earn non-athlete students in regards to GPA and credit hours.

The influence of coaches and impact of their mentorship on student-athletes cannot be overestimated.

"The best coaches, like ours, set priorities for academic achievement and create a sense of family among their players so that they know they have a support system away from home,” said Dr. Karolewics.

There is ample evidence in the list of achievements below of just how much Wallace State coaches have imparted the importance of academic achievement on their players.  Each year, Wallace State's teams as a whole, and individual players are recognized nationally for academic achievement.

"There are numerous success stories of students, like Marcus, who have flourished in college but would not have attended college were it not for an athletic scholarship.  We are proud of our athletic tradition at Wallace State and the opportunities athletics provide our student-athletes,” she said.

Board members, some of whom were athletes in college and others who were basketball fans, and all of whom were pleased by this community college success story, congratulated Johnson on his successes and wished him continued good luck.