Funny thing about John Banks and his relationship with the Usry Award, presented to the varsity sport letter-winner with the highest grade-point average at the end of his/her junior year. A member of the Student Athletic Advisory Council, Banks has presented the award to the past two recipients at the spring banquet.
“I think it was my sophomore year, I gave it out to someone and I literally thought, ‘I wonder how close I am to receiving this?’” Banks, a senior on William & Mary’s tennis team, said recently.
Turns out, Banks will be on the other side of the congratulatory handshake this spring when someone hands him the Usry. That’s his reward – one of them, at least -- for completing three years of work in economics with a GPA “sullied” only by three A-minus grades, all his freshman year.
“I never knew I would actually get the opportunity to win it,” he said, “and I don’t think winning it was my goal. I think that it was just doing the best I can in every subject, and I just happened to get it.”
That attitude is typical of Banks, tennis coach Peter Daub said.
“John’s a person who expects a lot of himself,” Daub said. “In doing that, the only way he can satisfy himself is to give his best at no matter what he does, whether it’s playing tennis or academics or being part of SAAC.
“I think the defining moments about John is that he has a very moral and ethical compass. He knows what’s right, knows what’s wrong, and he’s not going to bend his standards.”
The Usry carries with it an athletic grant of $5,000 for the senior year, though listening to Banks, that sounds secondary in importance.
“Obviously, it gives me a lot of pride to receive it, and I’m grateful,” he said. “Beyond that, it gave me a sense of pride in our program in general. The tennis team has done a really good job the last couple of years. I know we received an award from the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) this last summer based off our whole team doing well academically (seven ITA scholar athlete awardees), and I feel like this just added to the team’s honor. Also, it made me sit back for a moment and realize that it’s been a really good four years, that it’s been really rewarding.”
On the court, Banks was third-team All-CAA last season. This fall, he’s started more slowly than perhaps he’d like, though for a very good reason.
He spent the summer in New York City as an intern for Bank of America. He will return there after graduation, having already accepted their job offer.
“Tennis in New York is a little more expensive, a little harder to find,” Banks explained, “so I kept in shape but didn’t do as much tennis as I have in previous summers.”
Daub’s philosophy on such a regimen is simple: he endorses it. His student-athletes spend so much time playing tennis during the summers after their freshman and sophomore years that if they have the opportunity to take a major step toward future employment during the summer following their junior year, he’s all for it.
All of which raises the question of what constitutes a “student-athlete.” At many colleges and universities, the phrase has become a target of derision, with cynics contending the order of the words is backwards.
Not with Banks.
“The order of the words has been really key to me,” he said. “It’s always been being a student first, especially for me. It’s always been, ‘We’re not here to be professional at our sport, we’re here because we get to have a great education and on top of that some of us are blessed to get scholarships In order to play our sport.’
“To me it’s about being a student to the best of your ability and being an athlete to the best of your ability.”
The Usry Award is proof he’s succeeded.