UM Earns Highest Graduation Success Rate in School History

Four Rebel teams post perfect scores

Commencement in the Pavilion at Ole Miss. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

Ole Miss recorded its highest GSR in school history at 81 percent. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Coming on the heels of a successful weekend on the football field and basketball courts, the University of Mississippi has received more great news, this time on the academic side of things. In the most recent NCAA Graduation Success Rate Report released Tuesday, Ole Miss student-athletes recorded the highest GSR in school history at 81 percent.

Additionally, UM is graduating student-athletes at a rate nearly 2 percent higher than the general student body for the first time since 2009.  This is just one of many accomplishments Ole Miss student-athletes have had in the last year. In the spring, they posted a collective 3.0 GPA for the first time.

Ross Bjork, vice chancellor for intercollegiate athletics, is pleased with the progress Ole Miss student-athletes are making in the classroom.  

“I am extremely proud of our student-athletes, coaches and athletics staff for reaching this new academic threshold,” Bjork said.  “Our biggest responsibility in college athletics is teaching, educating and providing leadership opportunities for our students who compete in athletics. Our intentional approach to enhance our academic performance is now paying off with the best graduation success rate on record.

“Earning a college degree is the ultimate measure of success in higher education and we are extremely proud of all of our Ole Miss Rebels who have received their degree and allowed our university to enrich our academic profile.  While we have come a long way in a relatively short amount of time, our work in this area is never complete, and we will continue to strive for academic excellence for our entire athletics program. We must continue to fulfill our purpose by providing every opportunity for our student-athletes to reach their full potential. ”

Derek Cowherd, senior associate athletics director for student-athlete development, is equally impressed by the dedication of the student-athletes, coaches and FedEx Student Athlete Success Center staff to achieve this milestone.

“It has taken a lot of dedication from our students, staff and coaches to move closer to our target of 90 percent graduation success and to see Ross’ vision for our department coming true,” Cowherd said. “We take the utmost pride in the process and the way we do things with integrity and within our core values. 

“It’s very rewarding to see so many of our student-athletes graduating and having a plan for their lives after their collegiate days are done.  I’m thankful for this talented team who works tirelessly to reach our goal of being in or near the upper third of the SEC in federal and graduation success rates.”

The women’s basketball, women’s golf, volleyball and rifle teams each posted a perfect 100 percent GSR. This will be the eighth consecutive year the women’s golf team has posted a perfect GSR, while volleyball achieves the feat for the sixth straight year.  It’s the fourth year in a row with a perfect score for women’s basketball and the third for rifle.

In 10 years, Ole Miss’ graduation success rate has improved from 69 percent to its current 81 percent, and the Rebels are graduating 2 percent higher than the overall university population and the federal graduation rate.

Additionally, Ole Miss is making strides among its SEC counterparts, continuing to climb into the upper echelon of the SEC.  

For further academic accolades, follow @UMTrueRebel on Twitter.

Ross Bjork Named UM Vice Chancellor for Intercollegiate Athletics

Ole Miss also announces athletics director's contract extended through 2020

Ross Bjork, vice chancellor for intercollegiate athletics at the University of Mississippi, has been given a four-year contract extension to remain the leader of the UM athletics program. Photo by Nathan Latil/Ole Miss Communications

Ross Bjork, vice chancellor for intercollegiate athletics at the University of Mississippi, has been given a four-year contract extension to remain the leader of the UM athletics program. Photo by Nathan Latil/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Ole Miss Athletics Director Ross Bjork has been named vice chancellor for intercollegiate athletics at the University of Mississippi.

In announcing that Bjork had been given the new vice chancellor title, university officials also noted that an agreement was reached this summer to extend the athletics director’s contract to June 30, 2020.

UM’s request to give Bjork the title of vice chancellor for intercollegiate athletics was approved Thursday by the Board of Trustees of the State Institutions for Higher Learning.

The new title, as well as the extension of Bjork’s contract to reach the four-year maximum allowed by the state, reflects the university’s appreciation and support of the athletics director’s exemplary work since coming to Ole Miss, Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter said.

“Athletics serves an important role at our university as our ‘front porch’ – capturing the hearts and minds of people and bringing them to campus so that they can experience the full richness of our great university,” Vitter said. “Athletics has played a big role in elevating the Ole Miss brand to its strongest point in school history.

“The success of our athletics program is unprecedented and is directly attributable to Ross’ leadership. Naming him as the vice chancellor for intercollegiate athletics will continue that momentum. I expect under Ross’ leadership that athletics will continue to be an integral part of our growth and increased visibility.”

Ole Miss is the fifth school in the SEC to give its athletics director the vice chancellor designation, which more accurately reflects the all-encompassing role of the position.

“The idea is that this puts the AD at the table with the provost and other academic leaders on campus on a regular basis,” said Ron Rychlak, UM professor of law and faculty athletics representative. “That facilitates communication between athletics and academics, which is good for all parts of the university.”

Bjork has led Ole Miss athletics programs to unprecedented success since his arrival in 2012. Under his guidance, support has increased with record private donations and record attendance numbers in football, basketball and baseball. The athletics budget has increased from $57 million upon his arrival to $105.5 million for the 2016-17 season.

“My family and I are very grateful for the support and confidence shown by Dr. Vitter and the entire university community with a renewed long-term commitment to continue leading Ole Miss athletics,” Bjork said. “Holding the title of vice chancellor for intercollegiate athletics is not only symbolic of the department’s core values, but also solidifies our role in the university’s overall mission of educating the next generation of America’s leaders.

“I am a big believer in being fully integrated with the university and will continue forward with a great sense of responsibility.”

As a result, Stephen Ponder, the senior executive associate athletics director for external relations, will be promoted to the title of deputy athletics director.

“Stephen has shown great leadership in so many areas since his arrival four years ago,” Bjork said. “His energy level and ‘can do’ attitude have allowed us to grow our entire athletics program physically, financially, competitively and emotionally.

“This promotion to deputy athletics director is well-deserved and fitting for Stephen as my right-hand person. I am grateful for Stephen’s leadership and blessed to work with the best coaches and athletics staff in the country.”

Bjork’s direction of the Forward Together campaign has garnered more than $170 million in donations, resulting in the construction of The Pavilion at Ole Miss, the Vaught-Hemingway Stadium expansion and the renovations of the Gillom Center, Track and Field complex and the Olivia and Archie Manning Athletics Performance Center.

Ole Miss student-athletes and fans have witnessed immediate success in competition under Bjork’s leadership. The Rebel football team appeared in post-season bowl games for the last four consecutive years, reaching the Allstate Sugar Bowl last season for the first time in 46 years. Ole Miss soccer reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament last season for the first time in program history.

In 2014, the Ole Miss baseball team competed in the College World Series in Omaha for the first time in 42 years, and Ole Miss men’s basketball claimed the SEC Tournament Championship in 2013. Ole Miss softball reached the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history.

Men’s and women’s tennis, women’s golf and track and field have also reached post-season play, with pole vaulter Sam Kendricks claiming back-to-back NCAA championships in 2013 and 2014 and a bronze medal at the 2016 Summer Olympics. Track and field athlete Raven Saunders brought an NCAA Championship to Ole Miss for shot put.

But Bjork’s commitment to success reaches well beyond the field of competition. His strong emphasis on academics has led student-athletes to a record average GPA of 3.0, and the graduation success rate has increased from 72 percent to 81 percent.

His active involvement in other university programs, including the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation, led to his recognition by the NCAA as a Champion of Diversity in 2015. He and former UM Chancellor Dan Jones were the first individuals highlighted with this designation for their work to support the interests of ethnic minorities and underrepresented populations.

Bjork encourages community involvement among student-athletes as well. Under his leadership, athletics programs and their members have participated in more than 50 service projects. Additionally, he’s traveled the country over the last five years, speaking to more than 19,000 Ole Miss alumni and fans on the Rebel Road Trip.

“We are extremely proud of what our team has accomplished over the past four-and-a-half years, and I truly believe the best is yet to come for the entire university and our athletics program,” Bjork said. “We are Ole Miss!”

Ole Miss and Hopscotch Launch New Mobile App

Technology offers new fan-engagement capabilities

athleticsappsOXFORD, Miss. — Just in time for the college football season, Ole Miss and Hopscotch, a mobile-technology leader for sports and live events, launched a new mobile app. The Ole Miss Athletics app is free and available for immediate download on the App Store and Google Play.

“The new Ole Miss Athletics app gives Rebel fans more than just a gameday app. It gives students, alumni and fans a 24/7/365 connection to the action, the student-athletes and the school they love,” said Michael Thompson, Ole Miss Senior Associate Athletics Director, Communications & Marketing. “Hopscotch has been awesome to work with, and their technology and service is best in class.”

With the new app, Rebel fans receive:

  • All-team access: The school’s app is a one-stop shop for all men’s and women’s varsity teams. Fans can select their favorite student-athletes and teams to personalize app content.
  • Scores: Fans can access live-game scoreboards, box scores and stats via an integration with Stats.com.
  • Schedules: Fans can buy tickets to upcoming home games on their mobile devices via a Spectra integration.
  • Fan Zone: Fans can listen live on game day via a TuneIn integration and join in on trivia, polls and contests via a Lodestone Social integration.
  • Breaking news: Fans get exclusive videos, articles and photos, plus social streams.

“When it comes to the intersection of fan engagement and technology, Ole Miss is a leader in college athletics,” said Laurence Sotsky, Hopscotch Founder and CEO. “It has been a privilege to bring their vision of a best-in-class mobile experience to life.”

Hopscotch also integrated its mobile platform with DoubleClick by Google for ad serving and SSB for data warehousing and business intelligence. This gives Ole Miss new capabilities to provide each fan a more personalized experience, based on geolocation, app preferences and app behaviors.

As the multimedia rights partner of Ole Miss Athletics, IMG helped to facilitate the relationship.

“We are excited to work together with Ole Miss to develop a great technology solution that will help Rebel fans engage with the school and its athletic programs,” said Stewart Marlborough, Senior Vice President, Head of Digital, IMG College. “Hopscotch offers fans unique content that improves the viewing and game day experiences and, in turn, helps brands connect more directly to the university’s core audience.”

Hopscotch (GoHopscotch.com) is a leader in mobile-platform technology that makes it easy for colleges, sports teams and event organizers to build scalable, affordable mobile apps. The Hopscotch platform combines a feature-rich content-management system with an open-API architecture, aggregating a variety of mobile technologies into a single fan-engagement destination. Hopscotch customers include Auburn, Ole Miss, University of Central Florida and more than 35 sports teams.

IMG is a global leader in sports, events, media and fashion, operating in more than 30 countries. The company represents and manages some of the world’s greatest sports figures and fashion icons; stages hundreds of live events and branded entertainment experiences annually; and is one of the largest independent producers and distributors of sports media. IMG also specializes in sports training; league development; and marketing, media and licensing for brands, sports organizations and collegiate institutions. In 2014, IMG was acquired by WME, a leading global entertainment agency.

Brittney Reese Claims Silver in Olympic Long Jump

Former Rebel medals in second straight games

Brittney Reese (USA) during the women's long jump final in the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games at Estadio Olimpico Joao Havelange. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Brittney Reese (USA) during the women’s long jump final in the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games at Estadio Olimpico Joao Havelange. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

RIO DE JANEIRO – Former University of Mississippi great Brittney Reese (BA English ’11) added another shiny medal to her collection with a world-class long jump performance en route to silver Wednesday night at Rio’s Olympic Stadium.

The world’s premier female long jumper since she turned pro after her 2008 junior year at Ole Miss, Reese came out to defend her gold medal from the 2012 Games in London. But despite an impressive leap of 7.15 meters (23-5.5), she was edged out by fellow American Tianna Bartoletta who claimed gold by 2 centimeters with a mark of 7.17 m. Serbia’s Ivana Spanovic earned bronze at 7.08 m, a national record.

Reese, a Gulfport native who lives and trains in San Diego, had only one fair attempt (6.79 m) out of her first four, before a pair of huge distances in her final two – 7.09 m and then 7.15 m. Bartoletta won the competition on her fifth attempt with a personal-best 7.17 m in a dramatic final two rounds of jumping.

“I’ve been through a lot these past two years emotionally, and physically battling back from surgery,” Reese said. “Today, I kind of got off to a slow start and it cost me at the end, but I am really pleased to be on the stand again and represent the United States.”

It was part of a big night for the Team USA women on the track, who are coached by Ole Miss head coach Connie Price-Smith. The Americans went 1-2-3 in the 100-meter hurdles (first ever gold, silver and bronze for the U.S. women in any track and field event), while Mississippi native Tori Bowie earned bronze in the 200 meters.

Reese earns the fourth Olympic medal all-time among Ole Miss track and field representatives and is the first Rebel to boast two Olympic medals.

With Sam Kendricks’ bronze in the men’s pole vault on Monday combined with Reese’s runner-up effort, it’s the first Olympics for Ole Miss representatives to win multiple medals.

Tony Dees won the other Olympic medal by a former track and field Rebel with his silver in the 110-meter hurdles in Barcelona in 1992.

That concludes Olympics competition for the program-best track and field contingent in 2016. Below are the complete results of the one current Rebel (Raven Saunders), one current volunteer assistant coach (Gwen Berry) and four former Rebels.

 

Brittney Reese (USA) – silver medal – women’s long jump – 7.15 m/23-5.5

Sam Kendricks (USA) – bronze medal – men’s pole vault – 5.85 m/19-2.25

Raven Saunders (USA) – 5th – women’s shot put – 19.35 m/63-6

Gwen Berry (USA) – 14th – women’s hammer throw – 69.90 m/229-4

Ricky Robertson (USA) – 17th – men’s high jump – 2.26 m/7-5

Antwon Hicks (Nigeria) – 23rd – men’s 110 m hurdles – 14.26

 

For complete coverage of Ole Miss in the Olympics, visit http://www.RebsInRio.com.

 

For more information on Ole Miss Track and Field, follow the Rebels on Twitter (@OleMissTrack), Facebook and Instagram.

 

Former Rebel Kendricks Claims Pole Vault Bronze at Rio Olympics

Third Ole Miss track athlete to medal at Olympic Games

Aug 15, 2016; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Sam Kendricks (USA) in the men's pole vault final during track and field competition in the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games at Estadio Olimpico Joao Havelange. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Aug 15, 2016; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Sam Kendricks (USA) in the men’s pole vault final during track and field competition in the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games at Estadio Olimpico Joao Havelange. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

RIO DE JANEIRO – It was a special Monday night in Brazil for University of Mississippi alumnus Sam Kendricks, who captured a bronze medal in the men’s pole vault at the 2016 Olympic Games.

In a dramatic competition that came down to three final vaulters, Kendricks rose to the occasion by clearing 5.85 meters (19-2.25) on his first try. He had three very close attempts at 5.93 m/19-5.5, while Brazil’s Thiago Braz da Silva claimed gold with an Olympic record mark of 6.03 m and defending champion Renaud Lavillenie of France won silver with a clearance at 5.98 m.

Kendricks is the first American man to win an Olympic medal in the pole vault since 2004, and he’s the third Ole Miss track and field representative to medal at the Olympics. Brittney Reese, who will compete Tuesday, was the women’s long jump gold medalist in 2012. Tony Dees was the silver medalist in the 110-meter hurdles in 1992.

Before Monday’s competition began, Kendricks dedicated his performance to the six Oxford citizens who died in a plane crash over the weekend, and the children and families they left behind. By many accounts, his performance in Rio was a healing balm the town of Oxford needed after such a tragic occurrence.

The hundreds of fans that watched him from the Square in his hometown of Oxford cheered him on with fervor as each bar was raised a bit higher. He is the first Olympian from the small town in which he grew up, graduated from both high school and college, and still lives and trains.

Kendricks was lauded by NBC commentators and across the social media landscape for his great sportsmanship and class, as he was seen congratulating his opponents and cheering for each competitor throughout the night.

“I know that the Olympics is like a high tide, it raises all boats and it brings the best out of all of us,” Kendricks said. “I was so happy to watch my friend Thiago (Braz) set his personal best in his home country in front of his home crowd, and I think that I thrived off of that as well.

“I did not set a personal best but I attempted it. I missed it very close three times, so I cannot be ashamed of my effort. I’m very proud of my bronze medal, what me and my coach (father and Ole Miss alumnus Scott Kendricks) and my family have achieved. This particular competition was a lot of fun for me – I knew all of the competitors by name, they’re all good friends of mine. We’ve traveled together and have competed together many times. We even trade victories very often.”

It’s been an impressive rise to international prominence for Kendricks, who was a two-time NCAA champion and two-time SEC champion in three seasons at Ole Miss. Since turning pro, he has won five U.S. pole vault titles, set a U.S. Olympic Trials record earlier this summer, was ninth at last year’s IAAF World Championships and runner-up at this year’s IAAF World Indoor Championships in March.

Another former Rebel also competed and advanced on Monday. Nigeria’s Antwon Hicks ran a 13.70 in his heat of the 110-meter hurdles to move on to Tuesday’s semifinals.

Hicks and Reese will both compete Tuesday, as Reese will begin her gold medal defense with the women’s long jump qualifying round.

On Sunday night, one of Kendricks’ former Ole Miss teammates, Ricky Robertson, represented Team USA in the men’s high jump qualifying and placed 17th with a clearance at 2.26 m/7-5. The top 15 qualifiers advanced to the final.

For complete coverage of Ole Miss in the 2016 Olympics, visit http://www.RebsInRio.com.

For more information on Ole Miss Track & Field, follow the Rebels on Twitter (@OleMissTrack), Facebook and Instagram.

 

 

Ole Miss’ Saunders Places Fifth in Olympic Shot Put in Rio

Rising Junior Tosses Big PR of 19.35m/63-6

Aug 12, 2016; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Raven Saunders (USA) competes in the women's shot put event at Estadio Olimpico Joao Havelange in the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Aug 12, 2016; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Raven Saunders (USA) competes in the women’s shot put event at Estadio Olimpico Joao Havelange in the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

RIO DE JANEIRO – Raven Saunders trained and competed all year to get to the Olympics, and her first appearance on the world’s biggest stage did not disappoint.

The Ole Miss rising junior used a personal-best heave of 19.35 meters (63-6) on her last throw of Friday night’s shot put final to earn fifth place. Her U.S. teammate Michelle Carter won gold also on her last attempt, an American record 20.63m/67-8.25. She edged out silver medalist Valerie Adams of New Zealand (20.42m), while Hungary’s Anita Marton (19.87m) won bronze and China’s Lijao Gong (19.39m) placed fourth.

“I can’t tell you how proud I am of Raven,” said her Ole Miss head coach and U.S. women’s track & field head coach Connie Price-Smith. “She competed like a champ. She was throwing with her role model, who is now an Olympic champion. I told Raven that she couldn’t ask for anything more, because to come in here as a baby and walk out with a PB and fifth place the first time through an Olympic Games is priceless.”

It was a somewhat awkward series for Saunders before her massive final throw that bettered her own collegiate record of 19.33m/63-5. She came out with a strong first attempt of 18.88m and then fouled four straight times. As she has done throughout her young career, she came through at the end when the pressure mounted the most.

Saunders, the youngest shot putter among the 36 women in Rio, made a big statement on her second qualifying attempt at the Olympics, heaving the shot 18.83 meters (61-9.5) to easily surpass the 18.40-meter line needed to automatically advance to the 12-woman final. The 20-year-old who just finished her sophomore year of college also reached the automatic qualifying line on her first attempt, a foot foul.

A track season that started all the way back in December finally came to a close for Saunders after some sensational sophomore achievements. She won the NCAA outdoor shot put title with a collegiate record of 19.33m/63-5, and then she captured silver at the U.S. Olympic Trials to punch her ticket to Rio. She also broke the all-time collegiate indoor shot put record with a mark of 19.23m/63-1.25 back in February.

Ole Miss volunteer assistant coach Gwen Berry also suited up for Team USA on the first day of track & field competition at Rio’s Olympic Stadium. The Southern Illinois alum finished 14th in the hammer throw qualifying to just miss the 12-woman final. Her mark of 69.90m/229-4 was four-tenths of a meter out of 12th.

Four former Rebel athletes will compete in Rio throughout the next week, including U.S. pole vault champion Sam Kendricks who will compete in the qualifying round Saturday. The others are Brittney Reese (USA, defending long jump champion), Ricky Robertson (USA, high jump) and Antwon Hicks (Nigeria, 110-meter hurdles).

Follow all the Ole Miss contingent in Rio at www.RebsInRio.com.

For more information on Ole Miss Track & Field, follow the Rebels on Twitter (@OleMissTrack), Facebook and Instagram.

Ole Miss Athletics Foundation Announces Record-Breaking Year

UM supporters contributed $45.6 million over the past fiscal year

The Ole Miss men's basketball team takes the Pavilion court. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

The Ole Miss men’s basketball team takes the Pavilion court. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The Ole Miss Athletics Foundation collected $45.6 million in cash contributions, a new record, from donors in the fiscal year that ended June 30. The annual contributions break the previous high of $35.2 million in cash donations set the previous fiscal year.

Cash giving in the previous two years was $27.4 million in 2014 and $26.0 million in 2013, bringing the total cash contributed in the last four years to $134.2 million.

The Ole Miss Athletics Foundation is composed of members who donate to support Ole Miss athletics programs. Along with the increase in cash donations, the Ole Miss Athletics Foundation has grown as well, now including 17,773 members and counting.

“On behalf of Ole Miss athletics, including our coaches and our talented student-athletes, I would like to thank Rebel Nation for their generous contributions over the past year that set a new standard in fundraising,” Athletics Director Ross Bjork said. “The Ole Miss family continues to grow, and the support allows us to continue giving Rebels the highest quality student-athlete experience.”

The record-breaking year would not have been possible without several outstanding gifts. The foundation recognizes C Spire, FedEx Corp., Dr. Gerald Hollingsworth, Mr. and Mrs. Bill Jordan, the Ole Miss M-Club Alumni Chapter, the Trehern Charitable Foundation, an anonymous member and many others who have made significant contributions.

In November, Hollingsworth made a $25 million commitment to Ole Miss athletics composed of $10 million in current year cash and the remaining $15 million deferred, including an $11 million funded trust as part of an estate plan. This commitment is the single largest gift ever received by the Ole Miss Athletics Foundation.

The initial $10 million of Hollingsworth’s donation is being used to support the north end zone expansion of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, where the playing field already bears his name.

Encompassing Ole Miss Athletics Foundation membership and priority seating donations, annual giving represented $22.2 million (48.7 percent) of the $45.6 million in cash gifts, an increase of $6.6 million from last year.

The Vaught Society received a major increase in cash donations for Ole Miss athletics, up $10.2 million from last year for a total of $18.2 million this fiscal year. The Vaught Society started with 29 original charter members in 2010 and has 388 members who make pledges of $25,000 or greater over the course of five years.

Along with cash donations raised by the Vaught Society, $4 million was donated through Forward Together capital gift agreements.

“Once again, we are amazed by the remarkable generosity of the Ole Miss family,” noted Keith Carter, senior associate athletics director for development and athletics foundation executive director. “We continue to ask our dedicated and passionate supporters each year to provide essential resources in our pursuit of excellence. This year, just like the ones before, they have answered the call.

“On behalf of the Ole Miss Athletics Foundation, we thank you for helping Ole Miss athletics compete and win championships at the highest level.”

Leading the Ole Miss Athletics Foundation to another record-breaking year, Carter was named the 2016 National Association of Athletic Development Directors Fundraiser of the Year.

In addition, the Forward Together campaign has topped $167.5 million in commitments with $30 million in new gifts pledged in the fiscal year. The foundation reached the original campaign goal of $150 million during 2016 and raised the goal to $200 million.

With $32.5 million remaining, the new mark is anticipated to be met by June 2017.

As part of the $200 million Forward Together campaign, Vaught-Hemingway Stadium is receiving major upgrades for the 2016 season. The north end zone bowl has been enclosed to bring the stadium’s capacity to just over 64,000, a new club in the south end zone has been constructed on field level and the playing field has been transformed to a natural grass surface.

New video boards, a new audiovideo system and new lighting are being installed as well. A plaza and letterwinner walk, with a featured bell tower, outside of the north end of the stadium, are planned for finish in late fall.

The football practice fields are also undergoing renovations, including a new artificial turf field, among other additions nearing completion.

The track and field complex resurface and renovations will also be completed soon. The Gillom Sports Center began major construction in early summer to include new weight and training rooms, team meeting rooms, playing courts, locker rooms, offices and other team space for softball, soccer, volleyball and rifle teams, with expected completion in spring 2017.

Oxford-University Stadium will begin undergoing renovations this year with the new Trehern Performance Center for the baseball team and a new club area behind home plate. Athletics will also begin work this fall on an indoor tennis facility that will hold six indoor tennis courts.

Ole Miss athletics officials expressed gratitude to the many donors, ticketholders and fans who enable the university’s projects for student-athletes to be successful.

For more information on the Ole Miss Athletics Foundation and the Forward Together campaign, visit http://www.givetoathletics.com or call the Ole Miss Athletics Foundation at 662-915-7159.

Sixth Annual Rebels’ Choice Awards on Tap for April 25

Student-athlete award show moves to The Pavilion at Ole Miss

The 2016 Rebels Choice Awards will be held in the Pavilion at Ole Miss on April 26.

Student-athletes gather on the red carpet before last year’s Rebels’ Choice Awards ceremony.

OXFORD, Miss. – Spring is in full bloom on the University of Mississippi campus and that means the sixth annual Rebels’ Choice Awards are just around the corner. The annual event, celebrating the accomplishments – both academic and athletic – of Ole Miss student-athletes, is slated for April 25 in The Pavilion at Ole Miss.

Richard Cross will serve as master of ceremonies and DJ Babi Mac will be a special guest.

The Rebels’ Choice Awards was established to celebrate Ole Miss student-athletes, but the entire Lafayette-Oxford-University community is invited to share this special evening. The awards show is free and open to the public.

“The Rebel Choice Awards is a unique opportunity to showcase the most important reason why we host intercollegiate athletics – our student-athletes,” Athletics Director Ross Bjork said. “With all of the momentum around the entire university and our athletics program, hosting the 2016 Rebel Choice Awards in the brand new Pavilion at Ole Miss is a perfect way to showcase our academic, social and athletic excellence.

“April 25 is a can’t-miss event, and we hope all members of the Ole Miss family can attend.”

The red carpet, featuring Ole Miss student-athletes, will begin at 5:30 p.m. on the Pavilion plaza, with the awards show scheduled for 6:30 p.m. In addition, Steak ‘n Shake and Raising Cane’s will be open before the show.

The Rebels’ Choice Awards include 18 awards in which members of Ole Miss senior administration and the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee select the winners. Awards include men’s and women’s sports winners in the following categories: Most Valuable Rebel, Rookie of the Year, Coach of the Year, Team of the Year, Scholar-Athlete of the Year, Hotty Toddy Award.

“The Rebels’ Choice Awards sheds light on not only the athletic ability of many of our student-athletes, but it also shows the intellect and comradeship that is displayed amongst all athletes,” said Deterrian “DT” Shackelford, a former football defensive lineman and linebacker who won the Men’s Hotty Toddy Award in 2014 and the Men’s Community Outreach Award in 2012. “Truly an awesome and inspiring event!”

The honors also include the Bennie Abram Award, given annually in memory of former Ole Miss football walk-on Bennie Abram, who died Feb. 19, 2010. The award goes to a walk-on student-athlete who exemplifies Abram’s spirit.

The Rebels’ Choice Awards is built into the celebration of National Student-Athlete Day, which is celebrated each year in April.

Established in 1987, National Student-Athlete Day was created to celebrate outstanding student-athletes who have achieved excellence in academics and athletics while having made significant contributions to the community. The observance was established by the National Consortium for Academics and Sports and Northeastern University’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society, and is co-sponsored by the NCAA.

The mission of Ole Miss’ student-athlete development program is to challenge student-athletes to be lifelong learners while pursuing continuous improvement academically, relationally, socially, personally and professionally during and beyond their athletic careers.

Student-Athlete Development is the hub for a wide range of Ole Miss athletics-sponsored programs designed to meet the needs of student-athletes and their families. It is divided into six areas: Student-Athlete Assistance Services, Career Development, Continuing Education, Community Outreach, Financial Education and Career Transition.

Visit Student-Athlete Development for more information on these programs.

A Look Back on Ole Miss Football’s Spring Break Mission Work in Haiti

The Rebel family helped provide a sustainable water system to their friends in Camp Marie

Members of the Ole Miss Football team use their spring break to serve those in need.

Members of the Ole Miss football team use their spring break to serve those in need.

OXFORD, Miss. — Select members of the Ole Miss football program and support staff recently gave up their spring break for the third year in a row to serve others by doing mission work in Camp Marie, Haiti.

A 28-person group representing Ole Miss made the return trip to Camp Marie to help provide valuable irrigation to the crops of Haitian farmers. In previous trips, the Rebels helped dig a well to provide clean water for the same village.

Coach Hugh Freeze emphasized the value this trip has not only for those he’s serving, but also the Ole Miss players and staff.

“That trip never disappoints in the realm of making you grateful and thankful for what we have here,” Freeze said. “It is a difficult trip for me the older I get, but it’s worth it to a lot of families and kids.”

Rebels senior quarterback Chad Kelly was on the trip for the second straight year, bringing along teammates Talbot Buys, Armani Linton and Sean Rawlings.

“It was amazing,” Kelly said. “You have the opportunity to kind of take a step back and realize how thankful you really are to be here in the United States and have the opportunity to play at a great university. A lot of those kids grow up in a certain situation and they can’t really get out of it. For us, to be able to go over there and put smiles on kids’ faces, that’s what it’s all about. We’re thankful we are able to go there and help them.”

Ole Miss partnered with the 410 Bridge organization, which has provided continued support for the Haitians that call Camp Marie home. With the help of 410 Bridge and the Rebels, Camp Marie is now closer to being able to take higher steps and see economic growth as a village.

Stephen Ponder, Ole Miss senior executive associate athletics director, and his family joined the trip this year, and Ponder also spoke on the weight of the trip.

“I know that for my family and the others on the trip from Ole Miss, seeing the need for basic things like water, food, shelter and clothing was overwhelming at times,” Ponder said. “We can take things for granted so easily at home, so seeing this up close and personal made a lasting impact.”

Ponder, being the only senior administrator on the trip this year, reflected on the lasting impact trips like this can make on the young people.

“I think it is so important that our student-athletes learn so much more about life outside their sport,” Ponder added. “Seeing how fortunate we are every day, taking advantage of opportunities before us and keeping things in perspective are valuable teaching moments that our coaches can use to transform lives on our teams. Coach Freeze does a great job of utilizing football as a platform for a higher purpose to change lives.”

Along with several other members of the Ole Miss athletics family and support staff, coaches Corey Batoon and Maurice Harris and their families joined the trip as well this year.

“We are well known in that village,” Freeze added. “They love to see the Ole Miss group there and to see them get fresh water and the joy they have for getting it is pretty humbling. It always ends up impacting us more than it’s impacting them.”

Freeze added that his foundation, the Freeze Foundation, has committed continued assistance to Camp Marie’s irrigation growth in the future.

Follow Ole Miss football on Twitter at @OleMissFB, as well as Facebook and Instagram. For more information, visit http://www.OleMissSports.com.

See more images from the trip here.

Schedule Set for BancorpSouth Rebel Road Trip

Fifth annual tour kicks off April 17 in Atlanta

Fifth-Annual Tour Kicks Off April 17 in Atlanta

Rebel Road Tour ’16 kicks off April 17 in Atlanta.

OXFORD, Miss. – The schedule is set and tickets on sale for the 2016 BancorpSouth Rebel Road Trip, Ole Miss’ fifth annual tour of the state and surrounding areas. Visit http://www.rebelroadtrip.com for tickets and full details of each event.

Headlined by Ole Miss football coach Hugh Freeze and Athletics Director Ross Bjork, the BancorpSouth Rebel Road Trip (#RRT16) will feature 12 fan meetings across the region, beginning April 17 in Atlanta at the College Football Hall of Fame.

University of Mississippi Chancellor Jeff Vitter and other Rebel coaches will also speak at select stops.

This year’s caravan reaches four states and three new destinations: Mobile, Alabama, plus Ripley and Cleveland. Other stops on the April 17-22 schedule include Gulfport, Meridian, West Point, Corinth, Tupelo and Oxford. Meetings for Jackson and Memphis, Tennessee, will be held in July.

“For our leadership, the BancorpSouth Rebel Road Trip is an opportunity to personally thank Rebel Nation for their passionate support of our university,” said Kyle Campbell, Ole Miss assistant athletics director for media and public relations. “We have enjoyed tremendous crowds through the first four years of this event, and we look forward to continuing that excitement again this year.”

Besides the speakers, the meetings include autograph lines, photo booths, official merchandise, football posters, a video look at the university and information tables for the Athletics Foundation and the Alumni Association. Fans also can have photos taken with the Egg Bowl, Magnolia Bowl and Sugar Bowl trophies.

In its first four years, the BancorpSouth Rebel Road Trip has visited 32 different markets and more than 15,000 fans. The tour has touched seven states and cities such as Birmingham, Alabama; Dallas; Houston; Little Rock, Arkansas; Nashville, Tennessee; and New Orleans, among others.

2016 BancorpSouth Rebel Road Trip

April 17, 5:30-7:15 p.m. (ET) – Atlanta (College Football Hall of Fame)

April 18, 7:30-9 a.m. – Mobile (Athelstan Club)

April 18, 5:30-7:15 p.m. – Gulfport (Gulfport Yacht Club)

April 19, 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. – Meridian (Central United Methodist Church)

April 19, 5:30-7:15 p.m. – West Point (Ritz Theater and Conference Center)

April 20, 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. – Ripley (First Baptist Church Life Center)

April 20, 5:30-7:15 p.m. – Corinth (Crossroads Arena)

April 21, 7:30-9 a.m. – Cleveland (Grammy Museum)

April 21, 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. – Tupelo (BancorpSouth Conference Center)

April 22, 7:30-9 a.m. – Oxford (Oxford Conference Center)

July 18 – Memphis (TBA)

July 19 – Jackson (TBA)