Madison Gardner

Madison Gardner found a balance between the sport she loves, golf, and her area of study at Gannon University, math. That balance earned her the designation as a Scholar-Athlete, one of 284 that Gannon produced this year.

For Madison Gardner, life has been something of a numbers game.

By her calculation, the Avon native took a liking to math as early as kindergarten, and her interest in the subject only grew from there. So did her love of golf.

And the two worlds, one inside the classroom solving equations and the other out in the elements solving distances and stroke counts, have formed a perfect pair. Gardner, a rising junior at Gannon University in Erie, Pennsylvania, has excelled in both areas and was named to the school’s robust Scholar-Athlete award list that was announced July 9.

After the past school year, 284 Gannon student-athletes received the honor, the most in the Division II Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference. Gannon has led the conference in Scholar-Athlete honors in eight of the last 11 years.

“It’s something that a lot of the student-athletes at the school get, something that we worked really hard for,” said Gardner, a 2017 Magnificat High School graduate. “I think our school has one of the top GPAs of student-athletes in our conference, so I think we have a really good academic history.”

Along with being a member of one of the school’s 18 varsity teams, having at least a 3.25 grade point average is required. Gardner, a math major, finished her sophomore year with a 3.7, and the women’s golf team’s average was 3.75, one of the highest of all Gannon programs. Along with her teammates, she maintained strong grades despite a fall tournament schedule that involved a lot of travel and weekends spent on difficult courses. She studied and completed homework from the team van or in hotel rooms.

“Any downtime we have, we’re trying to catch up on school,” Gardner said. “I have a couple (teammates) who are engineering and biology students, and also physical therapy and occupational therapy. Working with those girls, we all just motivate each other to work harder at school.”

The golf season starts in early September and lasts through the end of October’s PSAC tournament. There’s also a brief spring season played in April. Throughout, athletes like Gardner are typically taking 15 or more credit hours (five or more classes) while also fitting in a practice schedule. As a math major with a narrowing focus in actuarial science, Gardner takes classes only a numbers whiz could love. When the semester starts Aug. 21, she’ll have five classes on her schedule, with the first golf tournament set for Sept. 6. At Lake View Country Club in North East, Pennsylvania.

“Math being in the science department means a pretty rigorous schedule,” Gardner said. “I’m in classes with high-level engineering students and people like that, so I’d say it’s about as hard as an engineering degree.”

On the golf course, there’s also an increased degree of difficulty. The Golden Knights finished second in PSAC tournament last season and should be in the mix to win it this fall. Gardner said that one major difference between her time at Magnificat, where she was a two-time Div. I District qualifier, and her time at the college level has been the increased course lengths. While public courses pop up often on high school schedules, college programs play more country clubs, some of which are equipped to host professional events.

Gardner has navigated the change, learning to apply more focus to each shot. Her 90.3 scoring average as a freshman dropped to 85.7 last season, fourth-lowest on the team. Her low round for the season was a 77 shot on the second day of the Cumberland Trail Golf Classic in Pataskala, Ohio, last September.

“I think as I get older I’m becoming a smarter golfer, more thoughtful about shots and things like that,” she said.

She’s also having fun. The men’s and women’s golf teams are close, sharing meals, living spaces, practice and study time.

“The college team, being around them, living with them, eating with them, studying with them, it feels more like a family,” Gardner said. “Along with the boys team, we all just enjoy being around each other.”

The distant future holds a career path in actuarial science, an increasingly popular field that involves applying mathematical and statistical methods to industries such as insurance and finance. Gardner hopes to earn an internship at an insurance company in the Cleveland or Erie area next summer.

“I love my major,” she said. “It’s perfect. I never knew I could be so perfectly suited for something. I’m very lucky that I know exactly what I want to do after college.”

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