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20 years after leaving for the professional athlete life, Cheryl Stacy returns to Ohio State to complete degree

by Courtney Marsh, Ohio State Athletics Communications

Life is a balance. Sometimes the balance can be simple, like the fewer things on the plate the better. But sometimes the complexity of steadying an overflowing plate can bring satisfaction in achieving it all.

As a student-athlete on the Ohio State golf team, Cheryl Stacy knew this, but at the time was having a hard time balancing her academic responsibilities with the drive to compete on the links. In her three seasons, she had already made history as the first Buckeye to be a First Team All-America selection as well as one of the first to earn All-Big Ten recognition. She also was the runner-up and co-medalist in stroke play at the 1985 U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship and won back-to-back State Am titles in 1984 and ’85.

After helping Ohio State to three Big Ten championships and three NCAA championship appearances, including its first in 1983, the opportunities in the golf world were knocking too loud to ignore and Stacy decided to give the professional life a try.

“I had a pretty good career while at Ohio State and was at a point in school where I wasn’t enjoying school and golf at the same time,” Stacy said. “It was hard to focus on both. The demands were pretty difficult and I just wanted to play golf. I thought it was time for me to turn professional, go to Florida and play fulltime.”

After years of playing on professional tours, including the LPGA Tour and Futures Golf Tour where she won six tournaments, Stacy retired from tour life in 1993 and began to teach the game in Florida, Ohio and Michigan.

Her teaching progressed into coaching the college game in 2005 when she was hired as an assistant coach for the women’s golf team at the University of Michigan. Stepping back onto the college campus was the final push Stacy needed to fulfill a growing desire to finish up that degree she had put on hold 20 years ago.

“In the back of my mind I had always had some regret for leaving school early,” Stacy said. “When the job opened up at Michigan, one thing that really stood out is I knew I could finish school and they gave me the opportunity to do that.”

As early as five years after walking off the Ohio State campus, Stacy began to think about completing her degree. Ten years ago she began looking into possible programs to help her finish. The last push encouraging her to take that first step back into the classroom was being hired at Michigan.

After scheduling her life around golf for two decades, Stacy was again going to balance the athletic and academic areas of her life. She was more than ready this time, even though the college experience had drastically changed since her time away.

“It was really an eye-opener,” Stacy said. “The hardest part was just enrolling and getting through the whole process of how to get back into school.”

That, and the jump in technology since 1985. But with a computer class under her belt, which she helped as a coach, Stacy quickly got into the swing of things and soon the competitiveness she used to motivate herself on the course was creeping into her school work.

“The classes seemed a lot easier to me because I was able to focus,” Stacy said. “Once I started out really well with it, I thought I would try to get straight A’s. I wanted to see how well I could do.”

With attempting to balance her golf and academic sides once again, the assistant coach also realized how important it is for a coach to assist their student-athletes in both areas. After playing 18 or 36 holes in a tournament day, plus time at the driving range and putting green and maybe a team meeting, Stacy minded the time the coaching staff would schedule for the players and made sure they had time for studying as well as golf.

“I could see the demands placed on them,” she said. “We would travel and I would be studying on the planes with the girls. I realized as a coach I have to be conscientious to the time they have. You don’t want to go out to dinner and spend two and a half hours eating. You need to be efficient with your time and it’s really about the student-athlete and making the schedule work for them.”

After a couple of years of taking night classes at Eastern Michigan University, about a 10-15 minute drive from Michigan’s Ann Arbor campus, a chance run-in with an old hometown friend threw another possible object into the juggling act.

Stacy was recruiting at an American Junior Golfer Association event in which the son of Chuck Merzbacher, current Ohio State women’s tennis head coach and a friend of Stacy’s from Findlay, Ohio, was playing. Stacy mentioned to Merzbacher about the classes she was taking to finish her degree. He asked if she had heard about the Degree Completion Program run by Ohio State’s Student Athlete Support Services Office (SASSO) that helps former Buckeye student-athletes return to school and finish the degrees they began.

“I thought she was an ideal candidate for the Degree Completion Program and encouraged her to call,” Merzbacher said.

“I found out about the program and I realized Ohio State would allow me to transfer my credits,” Stacy said. “Plus I thought it would be really nice to get my degree from there.”

In order to receive her diploma from Ohio State, Stacy would have to drive to Columbus to take her last classes on campus. It was summer time and she had a little more down time with the team out of season, so even though it was a commitment she drove from Ann Arbor Monday mornings and returned after her Wednesday afternoon classes, staying with friends while in Columbus. She managed to still recruit and keep up her assistant coaching responsibilities with the team.

It was enough to balance in itself until news hit the end of June that Stacy’s boss, Kathy Teichert, was resigning immediately as head coach of the Wolverines after 16 years.

“It was a sudden thing,” Stacy said. “I didn’t know what was going to happen as far as if I would have the option to be the head coach or if they hired someone else if I would be the assistant, or the possibility that I might not have a job. I kind of mentally prepared for those three things.”

With classes and homework, weekly cross-state commutes and student-athletes to still be there for as a coach, the plate Stacy was balancing was quickly filling up. So what’s one more thing? She prepared to throw her hat in the ring to be the head coach of the program and throughout all of that, managed to only miss three classes.

Her ability to balance it all should prepare her well for running a Division I team, because on July 17 Stacy was officially named the Michigan head coach – just the fourth coach in the 34-year history of the program. Keeping steady with it all may have been tricky, but achieving two major life goals in one summer is beyond satisfying.

“This is a great time in her life and I’m sure it means a lot to her. Now she can influence other athletes on the importance of getting their degrees,” Merzbacher said about his friend.

And the possible conflict of interest, getting her Ohio State degree in communication while preparing to lead Michigan on the course, hasn’t gone unnoticed by Stacy, but she is more thankful than anything to each school for making both possible.

“I’ve always had a lot of respect for both universities,” Stacy said. “It sounds like it would be a conflict but I’ve found both programs have been super supportive.”

With all that she has learned about balancing over the last 20-plus years, from focusing solely on golf, to returning to school, to coaching, to running a Big Ten team, Stacy is ready to pass that lesson on to her student-athletes as well as others.

“It’s tough, but you can make it happen,” she said. “You have to keep working really hard and stay focused, learning life skills as you go. If you really want something and you’re motivated, you can make it happen.”