To clean up recruiting, ask parents, not NCAA

February 06, 2003|By MIKE PRESTON

THERE IS always finger-pointing in recruiting scandals. It's the media's fault. It's Nike's fault. Blame it on the college coaches or the high school coaches. The system is corrupt.

But if parents of athletes want to reduce the number of scandals, get involved in the recruiting process. Limit the numbers of visits to your home. Control the volume of phone calls. Accompany your child on all campus visits, the ones that are official and unofficial.

Parents need to take control of the process limiting the occasions when an assistant coach or scout can cross the lines. We're not talking about the recent incident at the University of Maryland, in which assistant football coach Rod Sharpless allegedly gave a prominent Gilman player $300.

That's not a scandal, that's a joke. Probably an isolated incident.

But if you go to Cleveland, there is a 6-foot-8, 18-year-old high school basketball player who can leap out of the gym, but is also out of control. LeBron James has a $50,000 SUV through a loan secured by his mother, custom-designed suits, inscribes his sneakers with "King James" and often talks about himself in the third person.

You can't tell who is more out of control, James or his mother, who appears to be cashing in early on her son's future NBA fame and fortune.

"It's tough to sit back and watch things like that," said Michael Sye, athletic director at Woodlawn High. "You have to wonder about the mom because of her own personal situation. But the bottom line is rules are rules, and you have to obey them. Most 17- and 18-year-olds don't even know what the rules are, and sometimes they are so overwhelmed that they can't make good decisions.

"That's why it is very important, definitely a plus, for a kid when parents get involved," Sye said. "It's another support system in place with the coaching staff and guidance department even though a lot of parents aren't familiar with the recruiting process either."

Parents need to learn about it quickly. They need to know that big-time athletics and the corporate world have a lot in common. Scandals, lies, bribes, among other things. Almost anything to win. If that means offering money under the table, no problem.

If it means giving out fine clothes and jewelry, no big deal. If it requires late night phone calls and visits, assistant coaches and scouts don't care.

But that's where the parenting has to come in. Last year, Jesse Hayes was a defensive tackle at Woodlawn. He was recruited by Pittsburgh, Maryland, Rutgers, Boston College and Virginia Tech.

His parents, Richard and Clara, though, never took a phone call from an assistant coach after 9 p.m. Jesse Hayes recently finished his freshman season at Howard.

"I'm an early riser, so any phone call after 9 p.m. would have been a little disturbing. I would have been a little upset," said Richard Hayes, a retired police officer. "We've been watching what is going on in Cleveland, and wondering where are the parents? The only problem we had was that some of those guys would call here and ask for Jesse, and speak to him directly.

"But as soon as he got off the phone, he would be upfront and tell us exactly what they wanted," said Richard Hayes. "Every visit Jesse made, we made with him. He didn't talk to any of them in person without us being there. We didn't know a lot about the process at first, but we spent a lot of time on the Internet researching the do's and don'ts."

Parents have to become pro-active. They have to become an interrogator, so they can ask questions about graduation rates, academic support units, core courses and standardized tests. They have to become travel agents, plotting out visits to campuses. Parents need to be bodyguards, protecting their children from the soft and hard sells of assistants who aren't above violating NCAA rules. They need the X-ray vision of Superman to see through the rosy picture painted by scouts that their children can't because they have on blinders.

Kids can't handle all of this alone.

Kristen Waagbo, who plays attack at Mount Hebron, was one of the most sought-after lacrosse players in the country. Her father, Steve, couldn't imagine his daughter handling this process without him or his wife, Jean. Kristen has chosen Duke over Virginia, North Carolina, Penn State and Princeton.

"We tried to take it easy through the entire process," said Steve Waagbo. "If she had tried to handle this alone, it would have been quite difficult, just as it would have been for any child her age. Actually, it was quite overwhelming initially."

Waagbo had help from P.J. Kesmodel, a guidance counselor at Mount Hebron, and the girls lacrosse coach at Seton Keough. More athletic directors are getting involved, too. Sye has a seminar before every school season with parents in which he goes over NCAA rules, regulations, eligibility and recruiting.

About 200 parents attended the last session. Sye estimates 20 to 30 athletes from Woodlawn are recruited every year.

"You just can't send your kid to Stanford if he or she can't handle it academically," said Sye. "It's not just all about athletics. Academics come first."

It's all about the right fit. It requires a lot of time, patience and energy. And most of all, it should force parents to become involved in a process they don't want to get out of control.

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