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Kansas Wesleyan University

Life as a college athlete is a rigorous, demanding, time consuming and frequently exhausting existence.

Practices, team meetings, conditioning, travel and games are coupled with academics and accompanying hours of study and class preparation. Suffice it to say, it’s not easy.

Among those who choose this path are a small handful of student-athletes who want even more. They have a passion for a second sport and are willing to make the sacrifices it requires to compete in both.

Ja’Daa Wilson is a prime example.

Wilson has played basketball and flag football at Kansas Wesleyan since arriving on campus as a freshman four years ago from Crawfordsville, Florida.

She was a member of the varsity basketball team the past two seasons after two years on the junior varsity. She has played flag football since the program began four years ago and is constantly on the field as a defensive back and wide receiver.

Away from her athletic endeavors Wilson pursued a major in Pre-Athletic Training and will receive her degree during graduation ceremonies May 11.

No one, starting with Wilson, will say it has been easy, but she made it thanks to her discipline, perseverance and a big assist from her coaches.

“There were a few times when I was tired,” Wilson said, “but I worked through it. It’s something you have to do if you’re going to play two sports. I tried to not let it bother me and did the best I could.”

Her efforts did not go unnoticed.

“Being a college athlete is not for everyone, especially a dual-sport athlete which is something special,” flag football coach Melinda Nguyen said. “Just a lot of time management, commitment, priorities, communication – it’s a huge balancing act.  Ja’Daa found that sweet spot where you can balance both.”

“Just watching her show up every day and play hard and give everything she has for her teammates and coaches, that’s something when you say Ja’Daa Wilson that I will always remember,” women’s basketball coach Ryan Showman said. “Her approach was wanting to be really great, whether it was academics, basketball or flag. She poured everything she had into all three areas.”

Communication was essential, particularly during the times when activities in the two sports overlapped.

“She always did a great job of communicating with me, and we were always on the same page,” Showman said. “I never told her no. I knew how important flag was, I knew how important she was to the flag team and I wanted to be able to work with her because that was part of the deal we talked during the recruiting process.”

“Of course, there are times when you get overwhelmed and that’s when the communication comes in, and she does a great job communicating with me. ‘Hey, I need a day, a mental break’ and I can put it in,” Nguyen said.

Wilson has played basketball as long as she can remember but didn’t take up flag football until her freshman year in high school. She was hooked immediately.

Her passion for both convinced her to enter the Pre-Athletic Training program. She is unsure, though, where her career path will go and is considering her options – returning to play flag football for a fifth season being one of them.

“I want to stay involved in sports in any aspect I can,” she said. “It might be in training, or it might be in coaching. I feel like my personality is really good for coaching. I love to help and give back to my community.”

Athletic training remains a possibility, as well.

“It’s really just doing what’s best for the athlete before and after the game so that they can perform at their best,” she said. “Every sport is different. You’ve got different injuries; you’ve got different techniques. It just depends on the athletes’ preference and where their injury is.”

“A student-athlete who graduates is in a really great position, because they’ve done the balancing act,” Nguyen said. “They’ve done academics on top of hours and hours of film study and practices and games and all of those skills translate.”

For Wilson, the path to success was clear early on.

“It starts in the classroom – you’re a student first and then an athlete,” she said. “You have to get into your books and make sure your grades are good. All of our teachers and professors are really good at teaching us and getting us hands-on experience.”

Nguyen and Showman have no doubts Wilson will succeed.

“College is supposed to be that middle ground between school life and real life,” Nguyen said. “I think being an athlete is a perfect prime example of having to learn those life skills early on. She’s got a great wide range of experiences, so she can explore whatever she’s interested in and succeed at all of them.”

“I know it wasn’t easy, but, man, Ja’Daa made it look easy and I think that’s a tribute to her and the person she is,” Showman said.

Story by Bob Davidson