FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) The University of Alaska Fairbanks' 98th commencement ceremony in late May was anything but ordinary. As many made adjustments during the COVID-19 pandemic, the celebration was held virtually, featuring more than 1,300 graduates, including 25 athletes who represented the Blue and Gold.
Jalon McCullough put the Fairbanks basketball community on notice at Monroe Catholic High School, where he became a three-time 3A State Champion with the Rams. His decorated high school career led him to Peninsula Community College in Port Angeles, Washington, where he earned all Northwest Athletic Conference (NWAC) 1st-Team honors and was named NWAC North Region Freshman Player of the Year.
His performance caught the eyes of the UAF Men's Basketball coaching staff, where he would finish out his collegiate career in his hometown in front of the same supporters from his youth.
"Playing in front of your home town is something most people would love to do," McCullough said. "Every single night you get to go out there. Most people in the arena you know, and they know you, so it was something that I didn't take for granted of and I am very blessed to get the opportunity."
The slogan for many hoopers is, "Ball is Life" and that rang true for McCullough as well. He came to learn the importance of earning your degree while playing the game you love.
"Now that basketball is over for me, I kind of got that realization of how important the diploma is," McCullough added.
Although his commencement did not allow for thousands of people to come together to one location, McCullough was still able to celebrate with those closest to him.
"All of us graduates wanted to obviously walk the stage and get your diploma, but I got to hang out with my family, the ones that are most important to me and really just enjoy the moment."
McCullough received a bachelor of arts (BA) in communication and wants to stay around the game of basketball.
"I plan to get a graduate assistant (coach) position somewhere and get into coaching, that is really what I love."
Also born and raised in Fairbanks, Amy Gentry did not have to venture very far to compete at an elite university.
Amy Gentry set the tone for the successful Hutchison Hawks rifle program by becoming the first person from the Fairbanks school to shoot for UAF when she signed in 2016.
It was easy choice for Gentry to join the 10-time National Champion Rifle team, and earn her psychology degree along the way. No matter where she goes, she knows she belongs in Fairbanks.
"I have done a lot of traveling, especially through athletics, and everywhere I go I just want to come back home," Gentry said. "It just kind of grown on me and I don't think I could ever leave it."
Gentry's career personal-bests include a 593 in air rifle and a 585 in smallbore. She is also the recipient of the 2018-19 Bart LeBon Humanitarian of the Year award.
"To grow up watching these guys up here and just wishing I want to be that someday and then actually making that happen was kind of surreal," Gentry said of shooting for her hometown University.
Gentry is considering graduate school and is interested in becoming a mental health counselor.
"The whole reason I went to college was to shoot and then along the way, I started off in business and then I was like, 'this isn't what I want to do' and then I just fell in love with psychology and realized I like being around other people and helping other people."
Nanook skater Max Newton earned his Business Administration degree with a sport management minor, graduating with magna cum laude (3.75-3.8 GPA). Fortunately for hockey fans, Newton still has a year of NCAA eligibility left to compete.
One of 12 hockey players earning their degree this spring, Newton wasn't known for his academics in high school as he puts it. After two years away from school before joining UAF, the culture around the importance of school for the hockey program helped the WCHA All-Scholar athlete achieve success in the classroom.
"I think I was nervous about it going in (to college), so I put a lot more work into it, just to make sure I was ready to get back into school and then it just peaked my interest from there," Newton said. "(My classmates) were able to push each other and understand that side of it. I think we had a good dynamic with holding each other accountable on the academic side of it."
Newton is currently back in his hometown of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada working on summer classes. By the time Newton skates in his final game for the Nanooks, he hopes to have his Master's Degree.
Like many athletes, Newton hopes to continue a career in hockey after his collegiate days as a coach.
"Leadership is something I have always gravitated towards. Definitely having that kind of leadership role on the ice and transferring that to behind the bench one day is something I am interested in."
Newton's achievements in the classroom include selections to the WCHA All-Academic, 2018-19 WCHA Scholar-Athlete and an American Hockey Coaches Association Division I Krampade All-American Scholar nod.
Complete list of UAF Student-Athlete Spring 2020 Graduates:
College of Engineering and Mines
Tristan Thompson (ice hockey) – B.S. Petroleum Engineering
College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences
Kim Wong (volleyball) – B.S. Quantitative Aquatic Ecology – Interdisciplinary Studies
College of Liberal Arts
Rachel Beal (swimming) – B.A. Psychology
Mica Chen (volleyball) – B.A. Multicultural Education: Interdisciplinary Studies, cum laude
Morgan Erickson (rifle) – B.A. Justice
Amy Gentry (rifle) – B.A. Psychology
James LaDouce (ice hockey) – B.A. Justice, cum laude
Jalon McCullough (men's basketball) – B.A. Communication
Kylie Wallace (women's basketball) – B.A. Social Work, magna cum laude
College of Natural Science and Mathematics
Grace Nelson (rifle) – B.S. Natural Resources Management
School of Education
Alex Bergholtz (women's cross-country) – M.Ed. Education: Secondary Education, Gr. Cert. Secondary Education: Initial Teacher Certification Program
School of Management
Tyler Cline (ice hockey) – B.B.A. Business Administration: Sport Management
Zach Hatch (men's basketball) – B.B.A. Business Administration: Sport Management, cum laude
Kylar Hope (ice hockey) – B.B.A. Business Administration: Finance
Steven Jandric (ice hockey) – B.B.A. Business Administration
Colton Leiter (ice hockey) – B.B.A. Business Administration: Sport Management
Kyle Marino (ice hockey) – B.B.A. Business Administration: General Business
Anton Martinsson (ice hockey) – B.B.A Business Administration: Finance, cum laude
Max Newton (ice hockey) – B.B.A Business Administration: Sport Management, magna cum laude
Brittany Richards (women's basketball) – B.B.A Business Administration: Sport Management, magna cum laude
Sabrina Ungaro (women's basketball) – B.B.A Business Administration: General Business
Tatum Upchurch (volleyball) – B.S.E.M Homeland Security and Emergency Management: Emergency Management
Troy Van Tetering (ice hockey) – B.B.A. Business Administration: Finance
Jack Weiss (ice hockey) – B.B.A. Business Administration: Sport Management
Justin Young (ice hockey) – B.B.A. Business Administration
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