College Recruiters String Along High School Athletes

    My life was supposed to change forever on July 1, 2005. This magical day was going to be the defining moment in both my high school and college careers. This was the July 1 before my senior year in high school, and any serious high school baseball player can tell you that it all comes down to July 1 – a.k.a. Call Day.

    Christina Aushana/Guardian

    This is the day that (legally) for the first time, a college coach can telephone a high school prospect to inform them that they are interested in making said ballplayer a member of their college baseball team. This is the day for which you buy call waiting just to handle the huge barrage of calls, each hopefully offering a new scholarship from yet another Division-I baseball program.

    On July 1, my phone never rang.

    While I was by no means a nationally ranked prospect, or even state-ranked for that matter, I wasn’t bad. I was a tall, right-handed pitcher who threw relatively hard, got his fair share of strikeouts and was a member of a championship baseball program. These attributes definitely don’t add up to a surefire D-I prospect, so why did I even think that I had a snowball’s chance in hell of receiving a call on July 1? Because I constantly got letters in the mail throughout my junior year from all sorts of college baseball programs; each informed me about its school and baseball team and asked me to fill out a questionnaire.

    As a wide-eyed optimist who dreamt of baseball stardom, I took these letters as a sign that all my hard work was finally getting noticed, and that, sure enough, I was going to get my full scholarship to a top-notch baseball school. I was not naive enough to think that because I was getting all of these seemingly form-feed letters that these coaches were violently fighting over me. But obviously, these letters had a big effect on me. In all my excitement, I never read through them closely enough from top to bottom, always missing the last portion that proclaimed: “”Come to our Prospect Camp! Get Exposure to College Coaches and Pro Scouts!””

    Before the dreaded July 1 letdown, I never thought these camps were worth my time because I assumed I would be offered a scholarship. So why should I pay money to play baseball at any type of showcase camp?

    After a day of waiting by the phone, tracing the cord back to the wall to make sure it was connected and calling my service provider to double-check the working status of my phone plan, I decided to re-read all of the letters, thinking that maybe I would find in them some evidence or explanation for why my call never came.

    My second reading of the letters was nerve-wracking and exhausting.But with every letter that I read, my attention was not on the proclaimed stats of the given school but on those last few lines, the ones about the prospect camp. Of course! The answer was so simple! I didn’t get any scholarship offers because the coaches didn’t have enough chances to actually see me play. How had I not thought of this before? And for only a lousy $400, this was a no-brainer.

    I quickly signed myself up for as many prospect camps as my already busy schedule allowed and started preparing for the summer ahead. I then spent the next two months going all over California from one camp to another, each time convinced that I would shortly receive a call from a coach apologizing for not recognizing my talent earlier.

    I’m not trying to say that these camps were useless. They exposed me to better competition, allowing me to improve my own game for my upcoming senior season. They gave me the opportunity to play on state-of-the-art college baseball fields. Most importantly, they let me play the game that I love and to have a hell of a time doing it.

    As I’m sure you have figured out by now, I never got the call. I was never offered that scholarship. I am not playing college baseball. I’m OK with that now. And although I miss the game more than anything in the world and often cannot even watch a pro game without feeling a deep pang inside of me, it has given me the chance to reflect on everything that I did in an attempt to get the holy grail: the full-ride scholarship.

    Looking back, I would estimate that I spent approximately $2,600 to make myself a better pitcher to obtain that scholarship. That includes prospect camps, showcases, clinics and private lessons. My parents had the foresight that I lacked, and refused to pay for each and every lesson, which meant that I often had to dip into my own wallet to pay for these amenities.

    I’m not saying that I was attempting to buy talent. I worked hard in high school, conditioning and staying late after practice to fix any mechanical flaws. I just hoped that my dedication and unrelenting work ethic would get a little extra boost with some professional coaching.

    Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t take back a cent, because each moment truly did make me a better baseball player, which in the long run helped me become a quality high school pitcher and lead my team to important wins. But that $2,600 is a lot of money, and where does the money all go?

    It goes to the programs that invite high schoolers to camps, and this benefits colleges in every aspect. First of all, sometimes they actually do discover a new talent that will lead to a scholarship and acceptance into a school. This is fantastic for both the coaching staff and the player, but that player is a rarity at these types of camps.

    The majority of camp attendees are the quality players who want more than anything to be good enough to get a scholarship, but just aren’t quite there. We were the players on the bubble, who didn’t want to let go of our dreams that we’ve had since whacking a cushioned ball off a tee at the age of five. At that point in our careers, we were desperate for offers, and would have done about anything to get that scholarship. Those in charge of handing out those preciously scarce scholarships are fully aware of our desperation, and for that reason they include those seemingly innocent few lines of text at the bottom of our recruitment letters.

    I have full respect for all college coaches and staff, knowing that their job of recruiting the best possible talent is an extremely competitive and challenging endeavor. I know that having these types of camps bolster their programs and increase their reputation. For a college coaching staff, these camps make perfect sense. But oftentimes, they give ballplayers false hope.

    Although in the fall of my senior year I finally did receive a phone call from a D-I coach (which didn’t pan out), it only added fuel to my bitter fire. My inability to receive a scholarship forced me to realize that I just wasn’t good enough, and that was actually an easier idea to swallow than I first thought. I accepted my skills for what they were, was thankful for the coaches who had given me good advice and helped mold my pitching technique and focused on my senior season – which proved unforgettable anyway.

    In hindsight I realize that a few of those coaches might have wanted my checkbook more than they did my right arm, but the majority of them gave me a good, long look and in the end just didn’t think I was right for their program – and for that brutal honesty I thank them. Yeah, and an extra $2,600 would be nice, especially now that my meal points have dried up and I’m living off of generic brand oatmeal. But the money all went to teaching me about baseball, about the college recruitment process and, cliche as it may be, about life.

    I learned that there are always going to be people, either with noble or dishonest intentions, who will exploit your desires and dreams. I learned that there is no shortcut for hard work, and that sometimes you really do have to fail in order to grow.

    Toward the end of my senior year, I received an e-mail notifying me that I had been offered a scholarship. Finally, somebody wanted me! Unfortunately, it was not a college baseball team, but the federal government; I had been given a Cal Grant. It wasn’t enough to make me erase July 1 from my memory, but hey, it was a scholarship wasn’t it?

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