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UAA hockey's Pettitt earning multiple degrees when not on ice

Doyle Woody
Erik Hill

Andrew Pettitt is a UAA hockey player who takes a stupefying number of credits, so he's big on to-do lists. He neatly writes one for each day. He might start it the night before, just before bed, or first thing when he wakes up. But whether it's on a sticky note or a piece of notebook paper, there is always a to-do list to consult, tasks to be completed and crossed off before it's time to start a new list.

The lists are necessary because his days and nights are stuffed full -- with classes to attend, papers due, homework that must be finished, hockey practice, off-ice workouts, video sessions and, well, life.

That's a load for anyone to handle, Pettitt concedes, and that's coming from a guy who once took 23 credits (seven classes and a lab) in a semester, about eight more than the average load of a student-athlete, or simply most any full-time student.

But when Pettitt in 2011 accepted a hockey scholarship from UAA, he promised himself he would seize the opportunity and max out academically -- "Squeezing everything I can out of the lemon,'' he says.

The 23-year-old from Whitehorse, Yukon, is the first in his family to attend college. The only way Pettitt, one of Kerry and Patricia Pettitt's four kids, could have afforded college without a scholarship, he said, was to burden himself with loans, and debt.

"My parents, they taught us you have to work for everything, nothing is given to you,'' Pettitt said. "Like a lot of families, we had some hard times. I decided I would get everything out of school that I could. I treated that as my job.''

So it is that just two and a half years after beginning classes at UAA, and playing a Division I sport, Pettitt recently earned his bachelor's degree in management. He is currently taking a class that will give him a second degree in marketing later this spring.

As Pettitt puts it, he's the first in his family to earn a college degree, and in a few months he'll be the second.

Oh, and he's currently taking his first three classes toward a master's degree in business, which he intends to finish by the spring of 2015. At that rate, Pettitt would earn three degrees in four years. Oh, and he's taking another class toward earning his personal training certificate.

UAA associate athletic director Tim McDiffett, who has worked at the school 32 years, said he cannot recall another athlete who has graduated as quickly as Pettitt. He just shakes his head.

UAA assistant hockey coach T.J. Jindra, who has overseen the team's academics the last three seasons, marvels at Pettitt and calls him "an outlier.'' Jindra said he never has to monitor Pettitt's academics -- "He's a smart enough guy to handle it and figure it out.'' Jindra just shakes his head too.

And UAA head hockey coach Matt Thomas seems incredulous about Pettitt's academic progress, and prowess -- a cumulative grade-point average, Pettitt said, in the 3.4-3.5 range.

"Unbelievable,'' Thomas said. "Wow.''

And then shook his head.

Pettitt has sandy blond hair with some curl to it, seems easy-going and speaks quietly. He's proud of what he's accomplished already, but not braggy about it. He said that he took five classes his first semester, but immediately found one course so easy, he decided "I might as well add a sixth class.''

Since then, he's usually taken at least 18 credits a semester and has also taken substantial summer-school online courses. Early on at UAA, he consulted with an advisor in the business program and devised a plan to knock out as many degrees as he could. Pettitt said the support he has received from teachers, students and administrators at UAA, and also from hockey staff and his teammates, has made his journey possible.

Pettitt figures he spends at least a couple hours every semester setting up his class schedule for the next semester, making a grid to determine how he can take the maximum number of classes he can handle without his academic schedule conflicting with hockey. Both responsibilities -- academic and athletic -- are why he makes those to-do lists.

"I stayed true to the schedule,'' Pettitt said. "There's the odd time I just have to say, 'No, boys, I can't go out tonight.' You have responsibilities. When you have a goal, you have to stay true to it.''

Pettitt said he still gets some off-ice time with teammates and friends, and he belongs to UAA's Entrepreneurship Club. Still, his days and nights are usually busy, with school and hockey, so he misses out on some social time. He's missed family events -- his brother's wedding last fall, for instance, fell on the day of the Seawolves' season opener -- and half-jokes he is his family's "long-lost son.''

Hockey remains Pettitt's passion, and his release. The sport furnishes him a stress reliever, and joy. Plus, Pettitt said, his responsibilities to the team lend more structure to his life. Those to-do lists provide structure too -- Pettitt doesn't have time for much down-time.

"I've always been fairly good at time management,'' Pettitt said. "If I have 30 or 40 minutes free, I usually won't just sit in the (locker) room and talk to the guys. I'll rip out a paper, or do homework, so when it's the weekend, it's my time.''

Pettitt would like to play some pro hockey in Europe after UAA and eventually own a business. Coaching is a consideration -- he's coached summer teams back home. All that's for later. He still has a season and a half of eligibility with the Seawolves.

With one degree in hand, another within reach and pursuit of a master's under way, Pettitt is taking a mere five classes this semester -- you know, a somewhat normal class load.

So, he's treated himself. He has always wanted to learn to play piano, which is why he's signed up to take a one-hour lesson once a week through the school.

That, of course, goes on a to-do list.

Still, it sounds relaxing, especially for a guy who has earned it.

This column is the opinion of Daily News reporter Doyle Woody. Find his blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.

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By DOYLE WOODY
Anchorage Daily News