It's easy to get lost navigating maze of athletic scholarships

On High Schools

High Schools

November 06, 2005|By MILTON KENT

Slowly but surely, a collective look of confusion came down upon a group of local high school athletes during a college fair last week, as Samuel Walker peppered them with questions on how to get a college scholarship.

The kids weren't necessarily obtuse and Walker's questions weren't extraordinarily difficult, but the topic of getting cleared to play at an NCAA school has become so complicated that you practically need, well, a college degree to know how to get one.

"If someone tells me the process or talks to me about the process, I'm intrigued about how they know it," said Walker, a counselor with the CollegeBound Foundation. "The only reason they know it is that they had a kid who went through it."

Walker, who is affiliated with Dunbar, said he gives about two to three talks a week from October through December with parents and students. The thread that emerges in all of those chats is that very few people have a handle on the labyrinth of requirements to get a high school athlete ready to play in college.

"It's surprising that people don't investigate and put their energies and time and money into this process," said Walker, who played college football at Alabama and Furman. "They put it in, but they don't understand the process."

Who could? First, there's the sliding scale of grade point averages and SAT scores needed to pass NCAA muster, not to mention knowing what high school courses have to appear on a transcript. Then, there's the recruiting process itself and knowing what the phone calls and letters from coaches really mean. It's enough to drive one batty.

And that's why Walker, who is also an assistant football coach at Edmondson and about to become the girls basketball coach at Howard High, says parents and children can't afford to wait until a student-athlete's junior or senior year to check out colleges.

The process, Walker believes, really needs to start as early as when a kid enters high school.

"Many of our students don't understand that they can make this college thing happen through their athletic ability, but they have to know early what it takes academically," said Walker, who has two college-age kids and three younger children.

"So many kids make mistakes early, and I can't count on 10 toes and 10 fingers the number of kids who made their mistake early, like ninth grade, and never could recoup it. That's why we're trying to get it done early."

For instance, current juniors and seniors should know that to be immediately eligible to play at the Division I level, they'll need to have taken 14 core courses at their high school. For sophomores, that number will rise to 16 for kids entering college in the fall of 2008.

For the uninitiated, those 14 core courses include four years of English; two years of math at the Algebra I or higher level; two years of a natural or physical science (with a year of lab); one additional year of either English, math or a science course; two years of a social science (history or U.S. government), and three years of any course from any of the other categories or a foreign language or philosophy course. Sophomores will have to add another year of math and another year of the foreign language/philosophy areas.

Then there's the recruiting process itself. Walker says many parents are amazed that colleges seem to know about their children's skills as early as the eighth grade and have identified whom they are targeting for scholarships very early.

In that sense, the smart and pro-active parents and students begin to form their own list of places to consider as early as possible.

"If you go to any college campus, in any athletic department is a list of who the coaches want from one through five or one through 10," Walker said. "Well, at your house, there'd better be a list of who I want, college A, B, C or D. If you don't keep an open mind and keep marketing yourself throughout the process, you get hurt in the end."

One of the best ways to do that, Walker said, is to videotape your kids' games, or have someone do it for you, perhaps through a recruiting service. And the quality doesn't have to be Spielberg-esque, just as long as the college coach can figure out who your kid is.

"A lot of people think it has to be elaborate and this and that," Walker said. "If you're a coach, and you understand your game and you see a kid that's 6-4 or 6-5 and you see a kid that comes off the ball hard and has good technique, you can see it."

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