November 6, 1987
by Katie O'Connor
Dreams that may never pay off
Dreams. Everyone has great dreams of the future, but there is nothing more vivid and sensational than the dream of an athlete. Every year thousands of athletes enter varsity team programs at their high schools with the hopes of earning an athletic scholarship for college, eventually receiving the opportunity to make it to the pros some day. That is the dream, but, unfortunately, the painful reality becomes evident when these athletes realize their magical bubble has burst -- they are not offered the scholarship.
The biting truth is that very few, an extremely small number, of high school students are awarded full or partial scholarships.
At Maine South, for example, a school which is considered highly competitive in athletics, approximately seven hundred students participate in athletics, according to boys' athletic director Mr. Bernie Brady. Yet, of that number, last year's senior athletes earned only eleven scholarships on their way to college. An additional twelve students from Maine South's 1987 graduating class are currently competing in college sports without scholarship.
Thus, out of the total number of athletes who begin high school with high hopes of receiving a college scholarship, only about three percent may find their dream realized, and only about seven percent may be playing college sports at all.
In boys' swimming, for example, if an athlete finishes in the top six in the state, colleges will be looking for him. If he does not have the best times, but continuously improves with very good drops in times, he has a chance. In girls' swimming the competition for scholarships is even stiffer; recruiters look for the top three in the state. Of course, versatility is beneficial because colleges are looking for swimmers who can do all strokes, not just specialize in one stroke. According to varsity coach Chris Deger, "Gone are the days of one stroke specialists."
According to football coach Mr. Phil Hopkins, football scholarships are equally rare. "One of the misconceptions about winning football scholarships -- shared equally by parents and sons, but perpetuated by parents -- is the belief that football scholarships are easily attainable. Such notions are utter foolishness! Our entire conference, one of the leading conferences in the midwest, will not have more than four or five major scholarships a year."
But even if the athlete does earn the scholarship, he may find that his dream can easily turn into a nightmare. There is always the possibility that an injury may prevent an athlete from continuing his performance on scholarship in college. Once an athlete is unable to perform effectively in college, coaches are no longer impressed with the individual. High school athletes have to recognize that they are making a tremendous commitment of time and energy. Head girls' basketball coach, Mr. Mike Deines, agrees that "in order to have an opportunity to keep playing, you better love your sport."
Furthermore the standard of competition is far more intense. Most athletes will have to make a mental adjustment to collegiate level sports as well as a physical one -- they might have to get used to the fact that they are not the "star" of the team anymore, like they were in high school. In addition, the hard work required of scholarship recipients is more rigorous, the coaches more demanding. An athlete should have a good attitude, along with the driving motivation necessary to keep a positive outlook on the goals he or she has set.
The coaches' advice
"In high school I would encourage variety. High school sport is a branch of education, not a farm team for colleges."
-- William Drennan, Head Boys' Cross Country and Track
"Choose a college first because it fulfills your personal needs academically. If you do go on to play at the college level and happen to suffer an injury, you want to be in an environment that will meet your non athletic needs."
-- Mike Deines, Head Girls' BAsketball and Assistant Softball
"Don't delude yourself into thinking that scholarships are there for everybody. In a sport such as swimming your best bet is to work hard, work at mastery of all or as many strokes as possible, and choose a school that fits your academic and social needs and abilities."
-- Chris Deger, Head Boys' Swimming and Assistant Boys' Soccer
One of the most controversial issues in athletics today is the growing debate over whether a high school athlete, hoping to play in college, is better off specializing in one sport or playing many. The arguments for both sides of the question have several significant points. According to Coach Hopkins, "The demands and the skills required to excel in a specific sport are much greater than those in high school." If the only consideration were playing in college and making it to the top, athletes should specialize in one sport during their high school years. Coach Deger again stressed, "If an athlete is focusing on World or National Class competition, then you had better specialize."
On the other hand, he agrees that "too much specialization causes some athletes burnout, especially if you've been swimming since you're five." The girls' soccer team from two years ago, according to Coach T.R. Kerth, also suffered from burnout. "Five of the best soccer players in Park Ridge were so burned out in soccer before they got to Maine South, they chose to play softball instead. That year Maine South's soccer team was the best in the state, and the second best soccer team in the state may have been Maine South's softball team." Other coaches agree that athletes should participate in as many sports as possible in order to improve or develop other body skills and keep in top physical condition. George Verber, head coach for the boys' basketball teams, also emphasizes that "if you have an athletic talent, spread it out as much as possible, provided you don't hurt yourself academically."
But if the athlete still strives for the scholarship, the adjustment required during the change from hgih school to college life can be a difficult one. The practices are more time consuming, and the academic standards tougher. Coach Jackie Schultz of the girls' track team concurs, "Maintaining a strong balance between studying, socializing, competing, and practicing" is the reality an athlete must face. Disciplining oneself can be an arduous task, along with maintaining the constant effort to meet certain goals.
Fortunately, the Maine South sports' coaches are well informed and capable of giving pertinent advice to those athletes who hope to be awarded a college scholarship. Coach Bill Drennan of the boys' cross country and track teams believes that a serious athlete should "work on academics from freshman year on, and then give [his] training an honest shot at success. There are no shortcuts." Grades have also become an imperative factor when recruiters determine scholarship recipients because colleges are being forced to raise the standards. In addition,it is essential that high school athletes do well in large invitationals, regionals,, sectionals, and state meets. Working out during the off-season results in maintaining an excellent physical condition. Moreover, Mr. Jerry Romes, boys' baseball team head coach, advises interested athletes to "applly early -- to look at them all [colleges]. It's a big decision."
Moreover, the most important thing to remember is to keep a realistic outlook concerning athletic scholarships, and to be aware of the erality that not everyone can play Division I athletics. Maybe the best thing for a hopeful scholarship recipient to do would be to start out at a small school and work his way up. Though, it is necessary to remember that in the first place athletics were meant to be fun -- for the athletes, their famlies, their friends, and the team. As Coach Hopkins would say, "What is attainable is a love for the game and an opporunity to continue playing it -- not necessarily at a 'major' school. Indeed, I am proudest not of how many of our former players receive scholarships, but of how many love the sport and choose to play at any level."