Pharmacy Student-Athletes in a League of Their Own

Blending sports with challenging academic provides unique challenges and satisfactions

Alums Zack Brent (left) and Todd Sandroni pose with Senior Associate Athletics Director of Health and Sports Performance Shannon Singletary (center) at the 2013 Pharmacy Alumni Weekend Dean's Reception.

OXFORD, Miss. – Studying pharmacy successfully requires exercising a measure of intellect and self-discipline every day. Studying pharmacy successfully while competing in intercollegiate athletics also requires daily megadoses of determination, commitment, time management and focus, plus a passion for both pharmacy and sports.

“As a starter in basketball, (I) played 36 to 40 games a season,” said former Ole Miss Lady Rebels basketball standout Kimsey O’Neal Cooper (BSPh 94) of Carthage. “When some of the other athletes were sleeping on the way back from playing a game, I was up studying for tests.”

Being a student-athlete wasn’t easy, Cooper said.

“I wanted to excel on the court and in the classroom. Both were equally important to me, so I had to put time into both.”

Finding time to study amid days packed with classes, labs, two-hour practices or games made Cooper feel like she was facing “a seemingly endless list of challenges,” she said. “I really learned time-management skills and how to be organized.”

Today, those skills are serving her well. Cooper is a mother of two (Kobe, 12, and “little” Kimsey, 10) and, as a district pharmacy supervisor for CVS Pharmacy, oversees 23 pharmacies in Mississippi.

Fourth-year pharmacy student Zack Brent (BSPh 10) found making time for academics and his sport just as challenging as Cooper did hers.

“Figuring out how to juggle crazy test schedules with long practices, and figuring out when to make up assignments from the days we missed because of travel was a constant balancing act,” said Brent, who saw action as a football offensive lineman for two seasons. Student-athletes “have the same amount of time in a day that other students have, but crammed into that (day) are workouts, practices and competitions.”

Looking back, he said, “It’s hard to figure out how I did all the things I was able to do with the amount of time I had. The biggest challenge was continuously learning to cram the life of a normal student around our practice schedules.”

Crazy as it sounds, though, football “made school a bit easier for me,” Brent said. “When I left practice, I had to immediately go home and get my homework and studying done. If it wasn’t for football, I would have procrastinated more and my grades would have taken a hit multiple times.”

As a scholar-athlete, Teresa Hayman Crum (BSPh 88) of Canton, a former member of both women’s track and women’s basketball teams, was in a league of her own. She entered her sophomore season with the Lady Rebels with a 4.0 grade-point average earned during the previous basketball season. Her junior year, she not only sunk 90 percent of her free throws, best in the Southeastern Conference, but also earned Academic All-SEC honors. By then, she had made the Chancellor’s Honor Roll four times and the Dean’s List once. Her final season with the Rebels, Crum also earned Academic All-SEC with another 4.0 GPA.

Excelling at athletics and academics, Crum said, required “organizing your time, getting things done on time or ahead of time, staying focused on your goals, self-discipline and knowing that you have to put out way more than others.”

But doing so has its benefits. Today, Crum is a wife, mother of two (Melanie, 14, and Joseph, 11) and director of pharmacy at the University Hospital and Clinics in Holmes County.

Brent, a member of the SEC Academic Honor Roll his sophomore and junior seasons, was redshirted and didn’t get to play as a freshman in ’07. But he did get to serve as team captain during Ole Miss’ homecoming game that year, along with football greats Peria Jerry and Mike Wallace.

The achievement Brent cherishes most, though, is receiving the pharmacy school’s Amie Ewing Memorial Award, given annually to a student exhibiting the traits Ewing exemplified while a pharmacy student. Ewing died in 2004 after being struck by a car on Highway 6 in Oxford, following a night game at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.

“Amie was a dedicated pharmacy student and athlete at Ole Miss, so it meant a lot to me to receive this award,” Brent said.

Cooper, who played with the Lady Rebels from 1987 to ’90, earned an SEC Freshman of the Year award and was named to the SEC All-Freshman Team her rookie season. She won similar honors as a sophomore and a junior.

During her four seasons with the Lady Rebels, the team compiled a 94-30 record and made four NCAA Tournament appearances, including one trip to the Elite Eight and three to the Sweet Sixteen. In the Ole Miss record books, she ranks eighth in scoring, fifth in blocked shots and sixth in games played.

Cooper was inducted into the M-Club Athletic Hall of Fame in 2004 and represented Ole Miss in the ’05 SEC Greats Program, which honors one outstanding female student-athlete from each conference school at the SEC Tournament in March.

Cooper was similarly successful off the court. In addition to being a member of the Rebel 3.0 Club, in 1990, she became the first black student to be voted Miss Ole Miss by the entire student body.

Crum was named Lady Rebel Scholar Athlete all of her four years with the team. She also received the Lady M Club’s Scholastic Achievement Award and was initiated into Phi Kappa Phi, the national honor society for all academic disciplines, and Rho Chi, pharmacy’s national academic honor society.

Those honors were earned while completing her pre-pharmacy curriculum. While completing the professional portion of the program, she received the Pharmacognosy Award, earned a Taylor Medal, the university’s highest academic award, and was inducted in the pharmacy school’s student Hall of Fame.

That level of scholastic achievement didn’t mean she had zero time for fun.

“Some of my best memories from pharmacy school are playing intramural sports with Kappa Epsilon (pharmacy’s professional fraternity),” Crum said. “We played flag football, volleyball and softball. We always had great teams, and it was great fun.”

So, too, was the annual KE Halloween party and Pharmacy Olympics at Sardis Lake.

“We enjoyed dressing in costumes, and even some of the professors came dressed in costumes,” she said, but Pharmacy Olympics “was the highlight of the year for me.”

For Brent, fun also included KE’s Womanless Beauty Pageant, especially when “our favorite professors participated” in the annual charity fundraiser, and Phi Delta Chi social fraternity’s annual Battle of the Sexes.

Memories of such activities hold a special place in the hearts of most of the pharmacy school’s graduates, as do helpful and understanding teachers.

After a particularly grueling pharmacology test, Cooper remembers medicinal chemistry professor Ronald F. Borne telling her class that there “is no better place on Earth to be than here on the Ole Miss campus walking across the beautiful Grove.”

“He helped me put life into perspective,” she said. “I appreciate him to this day for that.”

Crum appreciates the school’s faculty and staff for understanding just how chaotic a student-athlete’s schedule can be.

“The faculty was so supportive during my time at Ole Miss,” she said. “They understood I had a hectic travel schedule, and they were always willing to work with me. I always felt that I was supported in every way by every professor, and that truly made a difference.”

Todd Sandroni (BSPh 92, PharmD 97) of Tupelo, director of Cardiology Associates of North Mississippi’s Cardiovascular Risk Management Clinic, said he met “many great students and professors, such as Ron Borne, Tom Brown (pharmacy administration) and Marvin Wilson (pharmacology), who have remained lifelong friends.”

Sandroni, who earned Academic All-SEC each of his four years with the football Rebels and was named to its All-Century Team, once had to attend summer school so he could work out with the team. That summer, Wilson allowed Sandroni to help with a pharmacology research project.

“I had to pick rats out of a cage and take each one to the researchers, so they could inject a drug,” Sandroni said. “On my first day, a rat snapped at me, and I threw it down. Needless to say, the researchers laughed at me.”

Besides making memories and friends to last a lifetime, Sandroni, Brent, Cooper and Crum acquired some valuable life lessons while studying pharmacy and participating in intercollegiate athletics.

“We hear it all the time from people older than us, that we better enjoy the time we have because it flies by,” Brent said. “In the grind of midseason practices and workouts, it felt like everything was creeping by, but at the end of every season, I remember thinking how quickly it passed.”

The life lesson? “Make the most of every minute,” Brent said. “Don’t go through another day without giving it everything you have.”

Crum learned that you must be passionate about what you do; otherwise, it’s easy to lose your focus.

“When you have been given a talent or ability for something, God will enable you to accomplish big things,” she said. “Self-discipline is a huge part of being successful, but so is passion.”

Cooper sums up how most pharmacy student-athletes probably feel.

“I wouldn’t trade my experience at Ole Miss for anything,” she said, because it’s what “made me the person I am today. Hotty Toddy!”