By Margo Wagner
Cancellations and delays for high school sports are disappointing for most athletes, but for athletes who are hoping to be recruited and go on to play at the college level, they can add an extra layer of stress.
The Virginia High School League voted in May to cancel all spring sports and again July 27 to delay the return until mid-December, according to its website. All three seasons will still happen, but they will be shortened significantly.
Recruitment looks different for every sport, but colleges often start attending games and looking at high school athletes as early as their freshman years, according to James Parker, athletics director at T.C. Williams High School. Then around their junior years, some athletes start receiving letters and offers from recruiters. Recruiters typically look at an athlete’s transcripts, watch film and games, talk to coaches and review statistics to make their decisions.
Because recruitment begins early in an athlete’s high school career, many senior athletes who were planning on playing sports at the college level were not affected by 2020 spring sports cancellations. Most of them had already signed offer letters and their spot on a college team was not dependent on their spring season performance, according to Parker.
But for some senior athletes, such as rower Johnathan Hernandez, the pandemic still complicated the process. Hernandez signed later than many of his peers, and his college visit to Hobart and William Smith College in Geneva, New York was cancelled. He ended up starting college in New York this fall without previously visiting the campus.
“It was a little frustrating because I wasn’t able to see what my life would look like for the next four years,” Hernandez said.
At the same time Hernandez was worried about the future, he had to cope with the loss of his final season of high school crew.
“It was heartbreaking,” Hernandez said. “Not being able to row my final season with my friends really left a hole in my heart.”
Although the loss of a final season was hard, Hernandez – like most 2020 seniors who are playing sports in college – was in a better position than his younger peers. The students who will be most affected by the pandemic recruitment-wise are fall sport athletes whose seasons have been delayed, Parker said.
“Football kids are usually going to sign by January and February, and now with the season being pushed back, we’re not going to start playing by then,” Parker said. “If they didn’t have a scholarship in hand or a team that was going to offer to them, it’s going to be difficult.”
Parker predicts that those athletes will still get offers, but it will be later than usual. Additionally, athletes who are juniors this year could have a more stressful senior year if they do not get to play. Recruitment is strongly based on an athlete’s performance their junior year, and if an athlete’s season is cancelled, his or her senior year will be more important.
“The effects of some of this may not even be right now, it could just be next year, because kids are missing so much time now. We’re gonna have to wait to see how this shakes out,” Parker said.
According to Parker, sometimes T.C. students plan to reclass or play at a private high school for a year after graduating, but students who are not recruited have limited options.
Crew coach Peter Stramese believes that the pandemic could have a broader impact on not only recruitment but scholarships.
“Some schools are offering a lot fewer scholarships and so the recruiting process is becoming a little more difficult,” Stramese said. “Because the pandemic is new, I don’t think there have been sweeping changes but they are definitely being a little more conservative with the amount of aid they are offering out.”
Stramese thinks it is still too early to predict what might happen with crew, but if the season is cancelled, athletes might see even fewer scholarships.
Parker recommends that athletes who are hoping to get recruited get film of themselves playing and make sure that their grades are strong. Parker said it is important for athletes to work as hard in the classroom as they do on the field. Additionally, T.C. coaches plan to stay in contact with colleges to make sure their athletes stay on the colleges’ radars.
Another important factor of recruitment is making sure athletes stay in shape. To motivate students, T.C. athletics held contests where athletes logged workouts and followed along with online exercises. The team that logged the most exercises won a pizza party for when they get back to school. They also had individual competitions where athletes could win T.C. sports gear.
In addition, crew team members were allowed to take erg machines from the rowhouse to their homes in order to continue conditioning.
Although the pandemic presents challenges for high school and future college athletes, Parker acknowledges that this issue is not unique to T.C. athletes. High school athletes across the country are all going through the same thing.
“The gift and the curse about this is that everybody is affected by it,” Parker said. “It is not just happening at T.C. and our kids are getting the short end of the stick. It’s happening all across the country so colleges and universities are adjusting too.”
The writer is a student at the Missouri School of Journalism.