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Fields of Dreams : When it comes to college scholarships, high school players learn that it takes more than athletic prowess to succeed at this game.

October 20, 1994|GORDON DILLOW | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Richard Estrada is standing on the sidelines at the Peninsula-West Torrance football game, watching intently as the young players on the field run and pass and butt heads on the line. He's holding a clipboard, making notations on a form after every play, but he's actually holding much more than that in his hands.

What Estrada is holding are the dreams and futures of young men.

Estrada is a professional high school football scout. Every year he will watch 40 to 50 high school football games in the South Bay and throughout Los Angeles on behalf of an Orange County-based company called Para-Dies Scouting, assessing the players' abilities, attitudes and potential.

His reports and those from company scouts in other Southern California areas will be assembled and sold to colleges and universities for $1,500 to $2,000 a copy, giving them an overview of what's available in the Southern California high school football market.

For anxious high school football players who will be waiting for those college football coaches to call, a thumbs up or a thumbs down from Estrada could be a deciding factor. Each notation he makes on that clipboard can help advance--or demolish--a high school boy's dreams of getting a "ride"--that is, a full college scholarship.

It's big business, this quest to get a scholarship, not just in football but in other sports, for girls as well as boys. Full or partial scholarships are available in about two dozen sports, and since implementation in the 1970s of Title IX, which seeks to balance expenditures on women's sports with men's, the growth of women's athletics scholarships has been explosive. In 1991, the last year for which figures are available, the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. reported that about 90,000 college athletes were receiving about $468 million in full and partial scholarships--almost a third of them to women--from 540 NCAA Division I and II colleges and universities.

Although the numbers are large, the size of the athletic scholarship pie actually is small, given the huge demand for a slice of it. No one knows just how many high school athletes--and their parents--entertain dreams of getting an athletic ride. But insiders estimate that no more than 10% of high school athletes qualify for athletic scholarships, either full or partial.

Still, the South Bay has a rich history of producing great athletes. George Brett went from the diamond at El Segundo High to an almost certain spot in baseball's Hall of Fame. Vince Ferragamo, a star at Banning High in Wilmington, went on to bigger stardom as the Rams' quarterback in their 1980 NFC championship season. Former NBA great Paul Westphal played at old Aviation High in Redondo Beach, while one of the NBA stars of the 1980s, Reggie Theus, came out of Inglewood High. And the list goes on.

If it can happen to them, some parents think, maybe it can happen to my kid.

As a result, many adults go to great lengths to help their children qualify for a college athletic scholarship, which not only would ease the burden of tuition but just might turn out to be a ticket to the pros.

In the South Bay, some parents have moved into certain school districts from miles away--and up to 15 years in advance--to get their kid in the best, most high-profile athletic program for his or her sport. Others take their kids across the country to "showcase tournaments" where college coaches and recruiters can see them in action. Still others pay hundreds of dollars to companies that circulate athletic resumes among college coaches.

Some, including legendary El Segundo High School baseball coach John Stevenson, think it's gotten out of hand.

"It has become a frenzy," said Stevenson. "There are kids playing solely because their parents are demanding that they earn a scholarship. Kids are trying to play for the wrong reasons."

Almost everyone connected with high school sports has a story about pushy parents screaming at their kids for supposedly blowing a scholarship by missing a layup or muffing a grounder. And yet, with the average cost of a private four-year college hovering around $14,000 (tuition, room and board) a year, who can blame a parent of a high school athlete for thinking that it certainly would be nice if Junior or Sissy could get all or even a portion of that tuition picked up by the school's athletic department?

So the question becomes, how do you help the kid do it? How do you increase the chances that your young athlete will get financial aid?

Based on interviews with coaches, student athletes, scouts, recruiters and parents, here are some suggestions:

Make Sure the Kid Can Play

That may sound obvious, but the ability to play a sport well-- very well--is a factor some parents overlook when they start dreaming of an athletic scholarship. Simply put, they think their young athlete is better than he or she really is.

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