From left: John Wojciechowski, Jillian Smith and Diane Dietz
April 18, 2014
University of Michigan director of athletics Dave Brandon will regularly offer his view on a variety of topics related to U-M and intercollegiate sports. All his posts, along with links to related content, will be available on his page, mgoblue.com/brandon, and he is also on Twitter at @DaveBrandonAD.
In 1915, the leaders of what was known as the Western Conference presented intercollegiate athletics with an award that represented the commitment of what was expected from a student-athlete. It was called the Medal of Honor. The award was created to strengthen the academic goals put in place by the founders of the Western Conference two decades earlier.
This year, the Big Ten Conference is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Medal of Honor -- the first award in all of intercollegiate athletics based on the student-athlete's accomplishments on the field and in the classroom.
Tuesday night at Crisler Center, the University of Michigan Athletic Department introduced the 2014 Wolverine Big Ten Medal of Honor honorees during the Scholar-Athlete Celebration. This year, fifth-year senior Jillian Smith (women's track and field) and senior John Wojciechowski (men's swimming) were named recipients.
While the Silver Football, Heisman Trophy and other media associated athletic awards receive the bulk of the attention, the Big Ten Conference Medal of Honor is actually the greatest award a student-athlete in the Big Ten can receive. Only one male and female student-athlete from each conference institution will receive the award each year. This means only 24 individuals are chosen and honored from the more than 8,200 student-athletes who currently compete in Big Ten varsity sports. And they are recognized and honored for what the student-athlete experience stands for -- academics and athletics.
Michigan's first female Big Ten Medal of Honor winner was Diane Dietz, a basketball All-American and an Academic All-American. Diane attended the Scholar-Athlete celebration and presented the medals to both to Smith and Wojciechowski.
Dietz, who is now the Chief Communications Officer for the Big Ten Conference, won the award in 1982 -- the first year women were awarded the medal. She knows first-hand the value of participating in sport and gaining an athletic scholarship. She has said "the Medal (of Honor) can be a reminder of why the collegiate model has worked so well and for so long."
From its first meeting on Jan.11, 1895, the original seven conference representatives demanded the 'pursuit of academic excellence... be the definitive goal of all universities.' The goal was to create a master plan that placed the administration of intercollegiate athletics under the direction of a faculty representative. They wanted it to be clear that those participating in sports were "full-time students who were not delinquent in their studies."
When the conference first announced the creation of the award in 1915, the NCAA touted the honor "as one of the significant gestures yet made in college sports."
Today, the 100th anniversary of the Big Ten Medal Honor provides an opportunity to showcase the benefits of the collegiate model handed down from the founding fathers of the Big Ten Conference. These ideals remind us that a student-athlete participates in intercollegiate athletics to get an education and a degree that will provide them with a lifetime of opportunities.
On Tuesday night (April 15), we not only recognized the accomplishments our Big Ten Medal of Honors recipients, we recognized the 447 student-athletes with U-M Athletic Academic Achievement awards who distinguished themselves as leaders in the classroom with levels of accomplishment ranging from "honors" to "high honors." What an impressive group of young men and women to assemble in one room!
In today's frenzy for dramatic and controversial headlines, people should be reminded the University of Michigan guiding principles are closely tied to the ideals of what started this conference. We create positive academic and athletic experiences for our student-athletes, preparing them to be successful in life. The Big Ten Medal of Honor winners are the best of the best as they strive to be successful in their athletic and academic lives.
This is why the Big Ten is considered one of the preeminent conferences in the country, and why those at the University of Michigan can proudly call themselves 'The Leaders and Best.'
Congratulations to all the Wolverine student-athletes who were honored on Tuesday night, and a special shout-out to our Big Ten Medal of Honors winners, Jillian Smith and John Wojciechowski. The benefits of your Michigan academic and athletic experience will serve you well for the rest of your lives.