Even the best rarely get sports scholarship


Howard At Play

December 07, 2003|By LOWELL E. SUNDERLAND

YOU'VE HEARD the line. Everyone with a child in sports has heard it and, no doubt, dared think it a time or two or three:

"Maybe my kid will be good enough [fill in the sport of your choice] to win a college scholarship."

Sure, and maybe college tuition will halve in the next 12 months, and then halve again the next year. Dream on.

Nah. Today, it's bubble-bursting time, given that this is a time of year when many households with high school juniors and seniors get really serious about visiting and applying to colleges.

The dose of reality here today bears renewing every few years because new parental dreamers keep emerging as their 9- and 10-year-olds start to bust "great" moves on a soccer field, or on a football field, or in any sport.

In fact, what follows may even be news to some parents whose kids win starting positions in a high school sport. You know, those who dream that if high school stardom's near, can a scholarship be far behind?

Probably not. Repeat, probably not, big-time.

While you can hear this same message from a lot of guidance counselors, teachers, older parents, even college coaches, Donald Disney, who supervises athletics in Howard County's public high schools, is the most articulate source we've found.

County schools, Disney will tell you, see roughly 8,000 boys and girls compete in high school sports each year. County teams win a lot of regional and state championships; in other words, the level of play here is quite good.

But when each year's seniors march across the stage at graduation, merely 1 percent - that's fewer than 20 countywide - walk off with a college scholarship that has anything to do with an athletic career.

"Maybe 1 1/2 percent, in a good year," said Disney in an interview, adding that about 35 percent of Howard graduates - about 645 individuals - secure scholarship assistance because of academic achievement or community service experience.

About 90 percent of all youthful athletic careers that include high school varsities end right there, or, at best, evolve into college beer leagues or intramurals.

Most of that 10 percent able to continue playing in college do so at smaller colleges, the Division III, nonathletic scholarship schools or in junior colleges or as walk-ons, Disney said.

Moreover, of those very few who win any kind of sports scholarship, maybe one or two - out of all county high schools combined - receive the coveted, dream-of-all-parental-dreams, "full ride" covering tuition, room and board, books and other expenses. In fact, most scholarships awarded entering freshman athletes are partial grants - full scholarships divided among three, four or even more prospective players.

Further, Disney said, most college athletic scholarships go for football and basketball, with figurative crumbs left for athletes in nonrevenue-generating sports such as swimming, gymnastics, baseball, softball and, yes, soccer and lacrosse.

Very few of those getting any kind of athletic aid receive it from big colleges, the so-called Division I universities and colleges.

And, Disney said, these disappointing numbers in Howard County are merely reflective of the national picture.

In other words, you younger moms and dads clinging to the concept that your kid may be The One, keep saving your money. For the vast majority of students, there's no such thing as a free college education.

Another of many points of perspective that Disney can offer: Rarely do boys in Howard get scholarships in football or basketball.

About three-quarters of students getting athletic scholarships in recent years have been female, thanks to Title IX, the federal law that requires gender equity in athletic scholarships. And most of them have been Mount Hebron lacrosse players.

Soccer, you may think, generates the most scholarships locally because it is so huge at the youth level. Nope. Lacrosse, mainly Mount Hebron's girls again. Soccer is third, Disney said, also behind track and field. And field hockey is rising.

"High school sports provide a great experience for kids, there's no doubt, but they need to be kept in perspective by parents," Disney said. "Even the above-average player here, some of them good enough to be All-County, isn't even going to play in college, at least on a school team. The level of competition there, even at Division III schools, is so high.

"Parents need to understand that high schools are not the minor leagues for colleges. The message is that academics is what needs to be stressed, above all else."

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