Colorado Springs, Colo. - Northeast Mississippi Community College's athletic programs once again exceled not only on the court or field of competition, but also in the classroom during the 2013-14 school year.
Six of Northeast's eight sports that are sanctioned by the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) garnered recognition as an All-Academic Team for maintaining a grade point average (GPA) above 3.0 on a 4.0 scale.
In addition, 10 players representing five Northeast squads received NJCAA Academic Student-Athlete Awards when the national office announced its selections on Tuesday.
"I'm very proud of the superior academic progress displayed by our athletes this year," said Northeast athletic director David Robbins. "Our commitment to academics is stronger than ever and I am happy for these teams and individuals."
The Lady Tiger tennis squad led the way with an incredible 3.59 GPA, which was third best in the entire country behind only Johnson County (Kan.) Community College and Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges (MACJC) rival Copiah-Lincoln Community College.
Allie Downs topped the effort for Northeast by claiming the NJCAA Pinnacle Award for Academic Excellence. The Booneville native was one of only five women's tennis players in the nation to compile a perfect 4.0 GPA in four complete semesters.
Belmont's Allison Wiltshire, who starred at No. 1 singles for the Lady Tigers, followed Downs with an outstanding 3.96 mark to qualify for the NJCAA Award for Superior Academic Achievement.
The Tigers found success in their studies as well and finished among the top 20 men's tennis teams in the country and third in the MACJC following Meridian Community College and East Central Community College with a 3.18 GPA.
"I am incredibly proud of our tennis program and I am equally proud for our players," said Northeast headman Ben Shappley. "We start the year with the understanding that our primary goal is to earn a good education. We play tennis because we love the game but realize that our futures depend on our academic success. I believe that our players have demonstrated their understanding and acknowledgement of this."
Jody Long's softball club provided the most individual honorees for Northeast and was also designated as a NJCAA All-Academic Team with a 3.31 GPA.
Erica Clifton of Walnut paced the Tigers, who appeared in the MACJC State Playoffs for the fourth straight year, by capturing the NJCAA Award for Superior Academic Achievement. The pharmacy major, which saw time in the circle at Northeast, held an impressive 3.8 GPA.
The duo of Walnut's Becky Robinson (3.75) and Lafayette, Ind., product Sydney Martin (3.67) each secured the NJCAA Award for Exemplary Academic Achievement as well. Both Martin and Robinson played in the outfield for the Tigers.
"We put an emphasis on academics and on those kids graduating," said Long. "We just try to prepare them for the next level no matter what they choose, whether it's the workforce or a four-year school. I'm very proud because that means they bought in to what we expect of them."
Northeast's run to hosting the 2014 MACJC State Baseball Tournament at Harold T. White Field did not deter its studies. The Tigers maintained a 3.15 GPA to collect NJCAA All-Academic Team status.
MACJC All-State catcher Riley Alef decimated the opposition with 21 runners caught stealing, more than any other athlete in the Magnolia State and third most in the country. The New Albany standout was also dominant away from the diamond and tallied a 3.8 GPA to obtain the NJCAA Award for Superior Academic Achievement.
Oxford's Hunt Halford, who was a steady left-hander out of the Northeast bullpen with a 3-1 record in 15 appearances as a sophomore, was given the NJCAA Award for Exemplary Academic Achievement for the second straight season with a 3.68 GPA.
"We are very proud of the time and effort that each player put into their studies this past year," Tigers head coach Kent Farris said. "The demands of being a college student-athlete today are so great. The fact that our players were able to excel at a high level both in the classroom and on the field this past year speaks very highly of the high schools and families that are involved. The preparation for such excellence begins with them and we are extremely grateful for their efforts."
The Northeast golf program made tremendous strides on the links under the direction of coach Nick Coln and was named a NJCAA All-Academic Team as well with a 3.05 GPA.
Jay Swinney, who notched an average round score of 85 during the Tigers' five MACJC tour stops, also devoted proper time to his courses. Swinney (Booneville) carried a 3.89 GPA and acquired the NJCAA Award for Superior Academic Achievement.
In the past three years, the Northeast women's basketball squad sustained a league-best 100 percent graduation rate and had nine athletes inducted into the prestigious Iota Zeta chapter of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society.
The Lady Tigers continued their scholastic prestige by gathering NJCAA All-Academic Team distinction with a 3.04 GPA. That mark is the fourth highest among members of the MACJC.
"We are excited to be honored by the NJCAA," said Northeast headman Brian Alexander. "It is always refreshing as a coach to watch your student-athletes reach a team goal of this magnitude. I believe it is important that we prepare these student-athletes for life because most of them will spend their professional careers doing work that is not basketball related."
Two men from the 2013 MACJC North Division runner-up Tiger football team complete the list of national recipients for Northeast.
Rogers started on the offensive line at left guard in all nine games for the Tigers during their last campaign while Gee appeared in five contests and caught a touchdown pass in the season opener at Co-Lin.
"Anytime you can produce academic award winners it makes you proud," Northeast head coach Ricky Smither said. "That's our goal. Wins and losses mean a lot to us, but having kids graduate from here is important too."
With minimal changes to its award process since the program's inception in 1983, the NJCAA has annually acknowledged the academic success of its student-athletes for 31 years.
During the previous year, nearly 1,800 athletes in the NJCAA's 28 different sports were recognized with academic awards for their achievements in the classroom.