Issue Date: 
April 29, 2007

Brown, Palko honored for representing the “student-athlete ideal” based on scholarship, athletic achievement, leadership, and citizenship

Kristin Brown
A leader in the pool and in the classroom

By Sophia Duck

Chuck Knoles, Pitt’s longtime swimming and diving head coach, enjoys talking about graduating senior Kristin Brown,

and he usually goes beyond using typical sports language in doing so.
“There is a well-known descriptor that has been used for many years to describe a man who is well-rounded physically, mentally, and spiritually—‘Renaissance man,’” Knoles says. “Kristin has similarly brought a well-developed persona to the swim team. She is what I would call a ‘millennium woman.’ She is athletic, artistic, and very bright.”

Four years ago, Brown joined a Pitt women’s swimming and diving team that had gone 3-7 the year before. In her first season, the East Berlin, Pa., native led the squad to six wins and earned All-Big East honors as part of its freestyle relay team. She also held “top-five” times among the Panthers in the 50-, 100-, 200-, and 500-meter freestyle events, setting the tone for her career as one of Pitt’s most accomplished women freestylers. The Pitt News named Brown its Pitt Female Athlete of the Year, a rare honor for a freshman.

In her sophomore season, Brown improved her times in all four freestyle events. She was ranked among the Taper and Shave College Quick 50 (a listing of the nation’s top times in given events) and earned two All-Big East honors. After the season, Pitt swimming coaches named Brown the team’s Most Valuable Swimmer.

“She performed daily in practice with the swim team and in the weight room, always striving to make the most gains she could,” says Knoles. “And she did all of that day by day, week by week, and year by year. She is a tough cookie.”

With two seasons behind her and her team’s fortunes improving, Brown took over as the team’s leader in her junior year and became just the third woman Panther to win a Big East title in the 200-meter freestyle. She also was invited to the NCAA Championships to swim the 200- and 500-meter freestyle events and to compete as a member of the first Pitt women’s swimming team invited to the NCAAs in more than a decade.

Brown’s senior year began at a home meet during which she recorded three first-place finishes. She went on to win another Big East title in the 200-meter freestyle; following that, she became the first Pitt woman swimmer in 20 years to earn an outright bid to the NCAAs for a second consecutive year. At the national meet, Brown set Pitt records in the 200- and 500-meter freestyle events, boosting her total of school records to five. Also for the second straight year, she was named her team’s Most Valuable Swimmer.

Brown is exceptional in the classroom as well as in the pool. She was honored as a 2006-07 Big East/Aeropostale Swimming and Diving Student-Athlete of the Year. She also received the Pitt School of Arts and Sciences’ Dean’s Award and Undergraduate Studies Award. She will graduate from Pitt today with a bachelor’s degree in studio arts and art history.

“Kristin has achieved academically and performed with the best in her major,” Knoles points out. “Her leadership skills grew with her social and physical development. In her senior year, she was one of the best captains, male or female, Pitt’s swim team has seen. The standards she set for herself and her teammates were very high and will serve as a benchmark for future teams.”

During the Pitt athletics department’s Senior Awards Banquet on April 9, Brown was named the female recipient of the University’s Blue-Gold Award for 2007. The awards are presented annually to male and female Pitt seniors who represent the student-athlete ideal based on academic scholarship, athletic achievement, leadership qualities, and citizenship. Winners’ names are carved into the stones along the Varsity Walk between the Cathedral of Learning and Heinz Chapel.

Brown says Pitt and its swimming program “have given me the best training, coaching, education, and tools to succeed academically and athletically. Being named a Blue-Gold Awardee is an amazing honor. There are so many great names carved into stone behind the Cathedral, and being included on that list is such an accomplishment. I love the Pitt tradition—it was something that really attracted me here.”

Tyler Palko
One of the smartest—and toughest—quarterbacks in Pitt history

By E. J. Borghetti

Like many recent college graduates, Tyler Palko spent an afternoon a couple of weeks ago preparing for a job interview.

Unlike most of those other graduates, he was being interviewed by a National Football League franchise, the Baltimore Ravens.

Before heading south, Palko studied a little extra game film and talked with Pitt offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh, who won a Super Bowl as a Ravens assistant coach earlier this decade.

Palko’s reputation for preparation and study is legendary in these parts. He never leaves anything to chance.

“I’ve never been around a player — college or professional — who prepares the way Tyler does,” says Pitt Head Football Coach Dave Wannstedt.

When evaluating prospects, NFL teams take into account brains and heart as well as brawn. Fortunately for Palko, he scores highly in each of those categories.

For the last three autumns, Palko was Pitt’s starting quarterback. He finished his collegiate career as the Panthers’ third all-time leading passer, ranking just behind the legendary Dan Marino.

Palko’s Pitt legacy, however, transcends statistics. Many observers agree that he will go down as one of the smartest—and toughest—quarterbacks in the school’s illustrious football history.

He was twice selected to the All-Big East Conference Team for his play on the field, and twice named to the Big East’s All-Academic Football Team for his excellence in the classroom. Palko completed his Bachelor of Arts degree in communication and rhetoric last May and took economics courses here last fall while quarterbacking the Panthers in his final year of NCAA eligibility.

You can almost see NFL teams marking off the boxes on their evaluation sheets.

Productive QB? Check.

Accomplished student? Check.

Perhaps the ultimate testament to Palko’s academic and athletic careers can be found on the Varsity Walk between the Cathedral of Learning and Heinz Chapel.

Carved into the Varsity Walk’s stones are the names of former Pitt student-athletes who have promoted the University in a highly distinguished manner. Palko’s name recently joined that select group when he was named the male recipient of Pitt’s Blue-Gold Award for 2007. Blue-Gold Awards are presented annually to male and female seniors who represent the student-athlete ideal based on academic scholarship, athletic achievement, leadership qualities, and citizenship.

It’s the kind of honor that jumps off a résumé, whether one is applying for a job with the NFL or IBM.

The NFL is putting a renewed emphasis on what the league calls “intangibles,” traits that can’t be measured by a stopwatch or the number of touchdowns scored. In the wake of several high-profile disciplinary incidents off the field, league commissioner Roger Goodell has reiterated that character does indeed count.

Put another positive check down for Palko. In March, he was selected a Coca-Cola “Community All-American.” Sponsored by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics, the award is designed to help institutions recognize, celebrate, and applaud collegiate student-athletes who are making a difference in their communities.

As this year’s honoree, Palko was able to select a charitable cause to be the recipient of a $5,000 donation by the Coca-Cola Company. The donation will go to the TC House Foundation, an organization Palko helped establish to raise funds for the construction of a group home for individuals with Down Syndrome in his hometown of Imperial, Pa.

Palko teamed up with lifelong friend Chris McGough, a student at West Allegheny High who was born with Down Syndrome, to form the TC House Foundation.

This was the second time Palko has been honored for his community service. Last fall, he was one of 11 football players named to the American Football Coaches Association “Good Works Team.”

“You don’t have to be a football fan to appreciate Tyler,” Wannstedt declares. “Whether it has been as a student, an athlete, or member of our community, Tyler has made our University incredibly proud. He leaves a great legacy at Pitt, and we know he will continue to do great things.”

Says Pitt Athletic Director Jeff Long, “Tyler truly embodies what is great about collegiate athletics.”

Someday, Palko will hang up his helmet for the final time. When that day comes, armed with Pitt degree in hand, Palko will be well prepared for the next chapter of his life.

Many have predicted a brilliant coaching career for him should he choose that path. Football has been Palko’s lifelong passion, and he often says how much the game has taught him about life, about a person’s own character.

“I love this game,” Palko says. “I love the euphoria a victory brings, the sense of accomplishment you get in the locker room with your teammates. Chasing that feeling is the reason a lot of us keep getting up after we’ve been knocked down.”