Keep Fit: Tips for Better College Recruitment on the East End

I ran track and cross country for Wake Forest University, and I cannot speak more highly of participating in collegiate athletics. But there’s a reason why How I Met Your Mother refers to our community as “Farhampton,” and getting from the backwoods of the wild, wild East End onto a collegiate coach’s radar is a process, one best achieved with dogged persistence. On Wednesday, Southampton High School hosted a panel of local college coaches and members of the community who have gone through college recruitment to address the process.

I polled a number of student-athletes and athletic directors to get their take as well. The conclusion: Being proactive is key.

“The best way to start the process is to contact the college coach,” says Kevin McHugh, Athletic Director at Bates College in Maine, a Division III school. “Probably the best way to initiate that contact is for the student’s high school coach to contact that college coach; the next is for the student him or herself.”

The SHS panel catered to athletes interested in college recruitment on the East End, who may also want to play outside of Division 1A, the highest level of collegiate competition. Many programs outside of the DI level have an average recruiting budget of less than $500, but scholarship money still exists for Division II programs. Division III schools like Bates can’t give athletic scholarships, but they work with student-athletes to give support through any means available. Often, the appeal of playing for a Division III school is the dual achievement of having competed at the highest level of athletics while still adhering to rigorous academic expectations.

Kyle McGowin, a Pierson High School grad, played baseball at DI Savannah State University. “We did a lot of the process ourselves,” says Kyle’s dad, Shaun McGowin. “No [coach] was knocking on our door.” Yet Kyle soon became one of the nation’s top pitchers, and he was selected by the California Angels in the National Baseball League’s 2013 draft.

The McGowins got into the recruiting process during the spring of Kyle’s senior year. Though it worked out well, since Savannah State offered him a scholarship, the elder McGowin acknowledges that by that time, many opportunities and financial assistance had already been allocated.

“It’s a shame in some respects, but the time frame for recruiting has moved earlier and earlier,” says McHugh. “It certainly doesn’t hurt to get on a coach’s radar in the sophomore year but certainly by the student’s junior year.”

A friend who played baseball at Wake Forest suggested thinking about college as early as eighth grade by joining travel teams, which allow players to hone their skill and to gain exposure to large tournaments, some of which attract college coaches. For Shaun McGowin, creating a video of Kyle’s athletic highlights was the best tool to get his son recruited, and he emailed the video to perspective coaches.

However, Shaun cautions, “Don’t settle for a school because you want to play baseball.” It’s not uncommon for people to end up quitting a team, either by choice or for injury, and you want to be sure your school has a wider appeal.

Another friend suggested being “cautiously cynical. High school students don’t always realize the business side of recruiting. More positively, get to know the team and see if you fit in socially as well as academically, because they’ll be some of your best friends for life.”

My college recruiting process was a little unconventional. I ran track at Southampton and placed 11th in the state in the 800m as a sophomore. By that summer, I was already receiving a few letters of interest from various schools. Soon after, I had a back operation for scoliosis. Though I missed out on competitive running for much of high school, I still hoped to run track in college. I chose Wake, emailed the coach my 10th grade times and walked onto the team. Years later, when I was cleaning out my inbox—laffeytaffy@hotmail no longer seemed appropriate to use—I found the initial email to Coach Annie. Turns out I had unknowingly typed my best 800 time as 10 seconds slower than it actually was. In retrospect, the sheer fact that a D1 coach had even responded to me was astonishing. But that one email changed my entire collegiate career, and proves taking the first step to reach out can have a drastic impact on your athletic endeavors.

What were your experiences with college recruitment on the East End? Share in the comments below.

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