A Pre-Game Graduation

Ten members of the University’s football team will be sidelined from Saturday’s commencement ceremonies.

Instead of graduating amid thousands of onlookers in Bresnan Arena, they’ll be on the field at Slippery Rock, Penn. in pursuit of the NCAA semifinal win against Slippery Rock University. It’s a big game — one away from the championship match — but for these Mavericks it lands on what would otherwise be their graduation day. And until earlier this week it appeared they would miss their ceremony because of the scheduling.

Athletics Director Kevin Buisman, however, decided they deserved better. Earlier in the week of commencement, he rallied everyone from the President to the Provost to assemble a small but formal cap-and-gown ceremony for Thursday night.

Thursday night was graduation day for ten Maverick Football team members.

“The commencement walk is the most important walk that these student athletes will make,” Buisman said. “We say a game-winning basket or winning a conference or those type of things are certainly worthy accomplishments, but there’s nothing more important than getting these student athletes across the stage. That’s the end goal.”

And so it went Thursday night in a bustling Johnson Alumni Room, where about 60 people beamed from three rows of chairs facing the podium. On the right deans and administrators, on the left the ten Mavericks in purple caps and gowns who heard words of praise and best wishes from Buisman, Maverick Football Coach Todd Hoffner, Provost Marilyn Wells and President Richard Davenport.

Hoffner said the ten had been an inspiration.

“Part of the mission for our football program is to have these young men be great people,” Hoffner said. “And a lot of that’s done before they arrive here at Minnesota State, especially this group up here. It was an easy job to help mold and shape their character because they already had great, phenomenal character.”

From there, Hoffner introduced each team member along with brief descriptions of their career goals. “These guys are very special in their own right and have represented Minnesota State with class and I’m so proud of each and every one of you,” he said.

“I just think this is fantastic,” said Margo Brudwick, grandmother of player Ryan Schlichte. “They’ve gotten this far in football, and now somebody recognizes that this was an important time in their lives, too.” Brudwick’s husband Dean as well as Schlichte’s parents are all alumni of Minnesota State Mankato, she added. “This is a real history we have with the University.”

When the formalities were over and the tossed graduation caps got only as far as the ceiling, player Shane Zylstra said he enjoyed the ceremony.

“It’s incredible,” he said. “I don’t think anyone expected quite this big of an event. But it’s awesome to see everyone pull through and we really appreciate the support.”

Graduating Thursday night were: Justin Arnold, Jack Curtis, Alex Goettl, Nate Gunn, Evan Heim, Tyler Neu, Zach Robertson, Ryan Schlichte, Tyler Schmidt and Shane Zylstra.