Mind. Body. Spirit.

Maybe it doesn’t matter in which order you put the last two – maybe it varies person to person, Hoya to Hoya.

Certainly, though – especially on a university campus like Georgetown – the mind must come first. And certainly with the Jesuit ideal of the education of the whole person, the other two must be there in some form or fashion.

Yet in one case that has rightfully raised eyebrows recently, the university barely avoided ruling that the body trumps the mind. The university and its athletic department eventually forced one athlete to choose between body and spirit.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have to say that I’ve known Liora Gelblum (SFS ’05) since my freshman year. She was a powerhouse tennis player then and remains so today. She loved the game then, and her dedication to it was obvious; but equally as obvious was the fact that she was both a studious and spiritual individual.

Now, because the study and the spirit interfered with her sport, Gelblum has been kicked off the tennis team – an act that diametrically opposes all that Georgetown and its Jesuit heritage purport to stand for.

THE HOYA reported last week that Gelblum was awarded a fellowship through the Pesach Project of Hillel of Greater Washington. Accepting the fellowship gave Gelblum the opportunity to travel to Ukraine to work with a Jewish community there. It would also force her to miss 10 days of the spring season, including three non-conference matches and four practices.

Initially, Head Coach Rich Bausch told Gelblum that accepting the fellowship would not only cost her spot on the tennis team but would also negate her partial athletic scholarship – without which she could not continue at Georgetown.

Sounds an awful lot like extortion to me.

“I felt like I didn’t have a choice,” she said. “To be able to go here I have to have my scholarship.”

The university and the athletic department made unquestionably the right decision in supporting Gelblum, allowing her to keep her scholarship whether or not she remained on the team. By the time Gelblum returns to campus after her fellowship in Ukraine, she’ll have fewer than five weeks of classes before graduation, and by supporting her, the university allowed her to finish her education at Georgetown and graduate.

It also affirmed that the education of the mind rightly trumps that of the body or the spirit.

“While we are a very good Division I tennis team, the real value of our team members comes from everything they contribute as people and students to Georgetown,” Gelblum said. Georgetown should be proud to have someone honored with an award like the Pesach fellowship and proud that one of its own is so committed to the ideals the university touts.

Still, the issue is just not that clear-cut.

Gelblum does have other commitments. When she accepted her scholarship, she made a commitment to the university and to the tennis team. She signed a contract committing to play tennis for the Hoyas.

Coach Bausch recognized this when he explained to Gelblum that, “as much as this is an honor for you to be selected . you already have the pre-existing commitment you made to Hoya Tennis.”

The least a coach can ask of a player is that he or she commits to attend every game and every practice. That’s the level of dedication just above what YMCA basketball coaches ask of 8-year-olds – always try your hardest.

Yet, Gelblum did all the right things in trying to honor that contract and reach a compromise with Bausch – committing to practice longer and harder to make up for the time she would miss.

“The Athletic Directors also said they’ve never in 25 years had a case like this where something so important conflicted with what the coach thought were the team’s priorities,” Gelblum said.

And according to her, Bausch agreed that some compromise could be reached. Bausch and the Athletic Department have refused to comment, but if Bausch did say it may be possible to reach an agreement, it was absolutely unacceptable for him to turn around and kick her off the team the very next day. That shows at least as big a lack of commitment to the team on his part.

I can understand a coach not wanting his star player to miss three season matches. What I can’t understand is the same coach instead being willing to kick that same star player off the team for the whole season.

Everything we do at Georgetown is part of our educational experience – including Gelblum’s fellowship opportunity. Bausch was wrong to ask her to choose between education and athletics. There’s a reason the student comes first in student-athlete.

“The Georgetown student-athlete experience should be about the whole person. No one came just for tennis to Georgetown,” Gelblum said. “When recruits come to Georgetown, Rich [Bausch] only discourages them by telling them how tennis is not a big deal here and the Athletic Department doesn’t care about it. So we get very well-rounded people but all of a sudden, it’s like . you are an athlete above being a person or a student.”

It’s now up to the university to decide whether a coach so clearly uncommitted to the ideals of the university should remain a member of its staff. The university made the right decision in supporting Gelblum. In mind, body and spirit, I have no doubt that it will make the right decision here as well.

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