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No Free Rides : Getting Athletic Scholarships for College Tougher Than Most Students or Parents Think


Many parents dream of their son getting a football scholarship or their daughter a full-ride college scholarship. That . . . is unrealistic for most kids and parents.

--Irvine Unified School District Parents' Handbook

A college athletic scholarship.

By the time high school players become seniors, those words will have been drummed into their heads.

Just about all parents in these economically trying times want their kid to earn one. But not many do.

A 1993 study by the University of Utah found that only one out of every 100 high school athletes earn an athletic scholarship to a Division I school and only two of every 100 high school players get the opportunity to play college sports.

That's not to say there aren't colleges around the country willing to offer athletic scholarships. The top 20 to 40 athletes per sport nationwide, the so-called "blue chip" players, are highly visible and coveted.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday November 8, 1995 Orange County Edition Sports Part C Page 7 Sports Desk 1 inches; 30 words Type of Material: Correction
College commitments--San Clemente's Kate Turnbull will attend UC San Diego next year but has not decided whether she'll play basketball, contrary to what was reported in Tuesday's Times Orange County edition.

But for the majority of high school athletes, the path to a college scholarship is almost always lined with pitfalls, hard work, careful career planning and the determination to succeed.

On the eve of another early signing period that begins Wednesday, it's important for parents, coaches and athletes to understand it's never too early to prepare for the future.

"You have to try to target the kids, early in their high school careers, that might have potential to go on to college," Woodbridge Athletic Director Dave Cowen said. "You need to bring them in with their parents and let them know what their possibilities are and what they need to watch out for."

So how do you go about getting an athletic scholarship?

Be Honest With Yourself

Not everyone is a blue chipper, although 50% of all high school football and basketball players surveyed for the Utah study believed they would get a scholarship.

"What you need to decide is, 'Do I have the ability to play at the college level?' " said Dave Stoeckel, founder of Athletic Scholarship Information Services, a company that finds scholarships for a fee.

Scholarships are generally available at NCAA Division I and II schools and at most colleges that belong to the National Assn. of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA). NCAA Division III schools do not make scholarships available, but don't count out a Division III school if you're only looking for a place to continue playing while getting an education. Many grants and student-work programs are available to help defray costs.

Said UCLA assistant football coach Gary Bernardi, who heads up football recruiting for the Bruins: "Often, there are cases when kids have the wrong perception about where they belong in college. Not every athlete can play Division I. Sometimes, a kid can play Division II . . . They need to look for their right match."

Ask your high school coaches for an honest evaluation. Compare yourself to others you have competed against. If you are a high school junior or senior with little or no club experience who is riding the bench in, say, girls' volleyball, what are your chances for financial aid in college? Maybe a junior college is for you.

"Don't feel guilty if you do not live up to your ideal of a super athlete," writes George Henderson, professor of Human Relations at the University of Oklahoma in his nationally distributed manual, Academic Survival Tips for Student Athletes. "Set realistic goals for yourself and put sports in their proper prospective."

Work with your parents to make some conclusions about your future, but don't rely exclusively on them to assess your athletic abilities.

"A lot of parents are unrealistic in the expectations for their kids," Cowen said. "In the back of their minds they view their kids as having tremendous skill and potential and they think that they are going to be wooed by all colleges, when, in actuality, that is very rarely the case."

School Work

College athletic directors and coaches like to use the phrase "student-athlete." When it comes to positioning yourself for a scholarship, the term applies.

Often the first things college recruiters look at are grades. That's why it's important to do well in high school. Many students, particularly freshmen, drop the ball.

"Parents and coaches should start early," said Jim Muldoon, assistant commissioner of the Pacific 10 Conference, about stressing the importance of good grades to athletes. "So often a [student-athlete] gets to be a senior and they start looking ahead to college, but most of the time it is too late [to repair academic problems]."

Explained Stoeckel: "When coaches come looking for kids in their junior year, all they have to refer to the player are their freshmen and sophomore grades. A good student, say a 3.5 grade-point average that has scored above 1,100 on the [Scholastic Assessment Test], suddenly qualifies for more prestigious academic schools."

That was the case for Marina standout soccer player Kristen Palmer, a National Merit Scholarship finalist now studying mathematics and physics at Northwestern.

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