Athletic Ambition Soars
Sep 09, 2013 03:02PM ● Published by Cate Reynolds
By Kat Spitzer
Main photo courtesy of Salisbury University
HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS AREN’T WHAT THEY USED TO BE.
If you have children or grandchildren interested in playing high school sports and dreaming of continuing to play at the college level, there may be more involved than you think (or remember). The landscape of the athletic programs is changing, and often requires much more from the athletes to succeed and reach the coveted college team, or even better, a college scholarship. Are the changes good for the student athletes? The answer is not black and white and it depends on the athletes, their goals, and their academic circumstances.
The biggest change over the past couple of decades is that athletes seem to be more developed in a given sport than in the past. “Kids pick a specific sport a lot earlier,” says Brian Boyd, athletic director for The Key School. “Parents are making choices for their kids very early, mostly because they want to advocate for their kids and see them improve.” Young athletes play on rec teams, then often try out for, and play years on, competitive travel teams. They will attend specialized camps, take advantage of enhanced trainings, and compete in additional sports leagues, all to hone their skills in a specific sport.
Once in high school, success in a sport directly correlates to time put into playing. “In order to play a sport in college, you need to play as much of that sport as possible in high school,” says Wayne Mook, athletic director at Severna Park High School. “If you are aiming for a scholarship, you need to be playing it year-round.”
To keep the momentum going, athletes will play for their high schools, while simultaneously playing with a competitive club team. “College coaches don’t come to high school games as frequently as they once did,” Mook says. “The kids know that in order to be seen by the college coaches, they need to be playing at club games or at special camps which attract the recruiters.”
College coaches, due to their own scheduling restraints, find it easier to show up at tournaments and camps, where they know they can see a lot of the best players at once. The kids know when the college coaches will be there and work with their own coaches and athletic directors to make sure they are ready to be seen.
“I knew I always wanted to play lacrosse at a big school and at a high level,” says Mollie Stevens, a Division I lacrosse player at the University of Florida and recent graduate of Queen Anne’s County High School. “In order to achieve my goals, I started playing rec lacrosse in Centreville when I was eight. When I was 11, I played on a travel club team. I then made the Maryland United Lacrosse Club, where the competition was really great. Most of the girls I played with wanted to play in college. When high school started, I played three varsity sports for most of my high school years so it was difficult and time consuming to play all year long. I also put in a ton of hours on my own over the years, playing wall ball and shooting on a goal in my backfield. I also played for other teams like the Under Armour Underclass Washington, D.C., team for two years and the Women’s Divisional National Team for three years, sponsored by U.S.
Lacrosse.” Mollie Stevens’ progression is not atypical. Juggling the time commitments can pose a real challenge. “Lacrosse has taken up a lot of my time, but I love it. The challenges I have faced have been balancing my schoolwork, especially during the high school lacrosse season, and visiting colleges during the school year on recruiting visits,” Stevens says. Students need to work extra hard to make good grades, excel at sports, and enjoy a balanced life with family and friends. That can often be taxing on a schedule for both students and parents. “What made me so successful in high school sports was the amount of time I put into them my whole life, along with the support of my family, who took me to all my practices, games, camps, and training,” says Kyle Dean, a student at University of Maryland and recent multi-sport varsity athlete at Queen Anne’s County High School.
The time commitment can lead to a driven excitement for college athletics or it can lead to burnout—or, at the very least, tired legs. There is no way to know at a young age; it really depends on the athlete’s goals, which may change over time. Kyle Dean was recruited by some small schools to play soccer and basketball, but chose the University of Maryland and club sports for a number of reasons. “I wanted to pursue a career in engineering and did not feel like I could give the level of commitment needed for that challenging degree (while playing a) full-time collegiate sport. I also did not want to choose one sport over another, so I went to a larger university where I could be flexible and still play club sports competitively.”
Brian Boyd wishes more students would take the two-to-three-sport route. “It’s a real shame when kids limit themselves to one sport early on. Colleges love the kids who do more than one sport. As long as kids are playing any sport year-round, then they can use skills from one sport to another. They hone different instincts.” If student athletes are interested in college sports, they can aim for Division I, II, or III, or just play in club and rec leagues, like Dean, depending on their other pursuits and commitments.
“Even if you don’t get a coveted college athletic scholarship, which can be rare in many circumstances, success in high school sports still makes kids stand out to colleges and can push them over the edge into acceptance,” Boyd says. This is especially the case for top academic universities, which may not give out many athletic scholarships, but still have Division II or III teams for which they need players.
In order to compete in NCAA sports, high school students need to make sure they are meeting eligibility requirements, depending on the division in which they wish to play. Colleges and universities choose whether they are a Division I, II, or III school, and student requirements are based on those divisions. For example, incoming student athletes in Division I and II are subject to academic initial-eligibility standards, which take into account standardized test scores, number of required core courses taken in high school, and the grades earned in those courses. The standards are based on a sliding scale in the sense that if GPA is lower, then standardized test scores will need to be higher, or vice versa.
Of course, in addition to the NCAA requirements, students also must meet the acceptance requirements of the university they plan to attend, which often exceed NCAA standards. Division I schools will have a certain number of athletic financial aid awards available to students, which are very competitive. Division II and III schools are not required to offer athletic awards, so students will need to work independently with schools to discuss financial aid options. Student athletes also must register with the NCAA directly to become a member while playing collegiate sports, where they will have to continue to meet eligibility requirements throughout their education.
They can find out information about registering at Ncaa.org, and by working with their athletic directors and guidance counselors. Membership ensures that students balance academics and athletics during college, and maintain a level of consistency on a national scale.
The commitment to sports leading up to and at the high school level forces students to have a better command of their time and take on a great deal of responsibility. “Some of these students are not only scholar athletes but also strong leaders, who lead strongly by example and work as a team,” says Connie Dean, a Queen Anne’s County High School guidance counselor. The years spent in sports also brings kids together. “The best part about my teams was that we were so close; they were my second family and I will be friends with many of them forever,” says Zane Doyle, a freshman Division I lacrosse player at UMBC.
If a student you know loves a sport, the best way for them to succeed in high school and give them a chance for college athletics is to keep them playing. If they like more than one sport, encourage them to give it a shot. The schedule might get tight but competition is stiff. In today’s competitive climate, students have to devote a lot of time for optimum results.