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Sports options beyond high school

Published on: August 01, 2004

Your high school student may be a great athlete, but does he or she have what it takes to play sports in college?

The reality is, while many teens dream of being a college sports star, very few are talented enough to play for a major four-year school. And even the most gifted athletes may find it challenging to handle the intense college-level competition, maintain their grades and have a social life -- sometimes a thousand miles away from home.

Fortunately, there are many options available for college-bound students who want to play sports, from intercollegiate teams at a four-year school or two-year community college to intramural athletics.

Coaches, parents and current college students interviewed for this article agree that when it comes to playing sports in college, there is no "one size fits all" choice for student athletes.

"Over half the players I know don't want to go away to college," says Mark Potoshnik, director of Kenmore-based Northwest Baseball Academy and coach of the Seattle Bombers, a select summer league baseball team of high school juniors and seniors. "They are scared to death of living on their own."

In addition, Potoshnik notes, many 18-year-olds "aren't ready to compete with 21- and 22-year-olds. Very few guys play as freshmen. So they need to be thinking: 'Do I go to the University of Washington where I might get five at-bats all year, or do I go to Edmonds or Bellevue Community College where I can play every day?'"

Kevin Dvorak is a good example. A three-year varsity baseball player at Lake Stevens High School, Dvorak says he "didn't care that much about school. I didn't even want to go to college." While playing summer league games at Bellevue Community College, Dvorak got to know BCC head baseball coach Mark Yoshino, who recruited him to play first base at Bellevue.

Like many athletes who start out at community college, Dvorak spent two years living at home while attending school then transferred to a four-year school, Oklahoma City University, in 2003. He now plays baseball for school's nationally ranked NAIA baseball team and is earning his degree in recreational leadership management.

"I was really glad I didn't go to a four-year school right away," Dvorak says. "I wasn't ready to move out and I saw a lot more playing time."

On the other hand, Eleanor Miller, a 2003 graduate of Seattle's Lakeside School, knew she wanted to play basketball at a four-year school. For Miller, the choice came down to accepting an athletic scholarship to one of several NCAA Division I colleges recruiting her, or to play basketball at Yale and realize her dream of attending an Ivy League school. Miller ended up choosing Yale, also a Division I school, which like all Ivy League schools does not offer athletic scholarships.

"I was pretty sure I didn't want to play for a big D-I school," says Miller, who starred on Lakeside's 2003 state AA championship basketball team. "If you go to a scholarship school, you are there on their buck and basketball becomes your life. I didn't want to go somewhere where all you do is basketball. I wanted to have a college experience."

Still, the 19-year-old Miller admits she spends a lot of time on the basketball court. To make sure that student athletes attend class as much as possible, Ivy League schools don't play games mid-week. As a result, weekends are reserved for games. And when there aren't games, there is practice, including weight room workouts, three hours a day, six days a week.

Balancing academics, athletics and social time is a challenge for even the best students, Miller adds. "The biggest difference between high school and college is, in college there is always something going on. I basically learned how to become more disciplined and structured -- two hours of intensive studying rather than four hours with half the effort."

What advice would she offer aspiring college athletes? "I would say, don't play in college unless that's what you really want to do," Miller says. "It's not like high school, where you have an hour and a half or two hour practice with your friends. It's like a job."

She also stresses the importance of "choosing a school for the school, not for the sport. If you got hit by a bus and couldn't play for a season, would you still want to go to that school?"

What about students who don't have the time or desire to play an intercollegiate sport but want to stay active? Many colleges offer intramural or other lower-key options that keep students in shape and also give them a chance to make new friends.

Natalie Wu, a 2003 graduate of Bellevue's Newport High School, found herself on the huge UC Berkeley campus as a freshman, attending large classes but not getting to know anyone. A friend suggested she join the school's Ultimate Frisbee team, and she was instantly hooked.

Ultimate, as players call it, is a combination of soccer, football and basketball that uses a disc rather than a ball. Players on Berkley's Ultimate team practice regularly (six hours a week in the fall and 12 hours weekly in the spring) and even get to travel to play teams from other colleges, although they pay their own way, Wu says.

"It's great because of the people you meet," she adds. "I can't imagine my freshman year without Ultimate."

Teresa Wippel is the mother of two children involved in select sports and is also the managing editor of ParentMap.

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