Prep student-athletes need to know ABCs of NCAA
By Leila Wai
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Leila Wai
As a sophomore at Castle High School, Blaze Soares began to see his dreams take shape.
He was named an all-state linebacker, and college coaches began to take notice. The only thing left was his academics. Soares thought he had time. Instead, he was left with nightmares.
"I was in pretty bad shape (academically)," Soares said. "I had so much to do. I didn't have any requirements, I didn't have any math credits. I didn't know about it. I had one year to get my things together."
Soares, a 2005 graduate, was offered a football scholarship at the University of Hawai'i. Instead of playing last year, he fell an Algebra II credit short of being cleared by the NCAA, was ruled academically ineligible and was prohibited from playing.
Soares wasn't the first student-athlete to endure such an experience and he probably won't be the last. And with hundreds of Hawai'i high school students planning to play college sports here or on the Mainland, Soares' plight raises the importance of understanding the nuances of meeting eligibility requirements for college athletics.
"I was unaware of what was going on," said Soares, who took correspondence classes on the Web while attending Castle to earn more credits in core classes to try to become eligible. "I never thought I could receive a scholarship or move on to the next level. I wasn't thinking about college, because high school was fun."
FILL OUT PROPER PAPERS
If student-athletes are interested in attending a National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I or II school, they must fill out an NCAA Clearinghouse form.
The Clearinghouse is an organization that works with the NCAA to determine a student's eligibility for athletics participation in his or her first year of college enrollment. It reviews a student's high school academic records, ACT or SAT scores, and key information to determine a student's initial eligibility, according to the NCAA Guide for the College-Bound Student-Athlete.
"The reasons for ineligibility vary widely, with more than 150,000 students registering with the NCAA's Initial Eligibility Clearinghouse each year," said Jennifer Kearns, the associate director of public and media relations at the NCAA. "Some don't graduate from high school, others are missing core courses or have insufficient GPAs or test scores."
The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) also has standards that prospective student-athletes must attain to be eligible.
But even if a student-athlete meets the NCAA or NAIA minimum requirements, it doesn't mean he or she will be admitted to the school, which could have higher standards, said Doris Sullivan, the director of the Pacific Islands Athletic Alliance, which helps to place high school athletes with colleges.
"You can have a 4.00 (GPA), but a 600 SAT, and who is going to admit you?" Sullivan asked. "You have to meet a school's admission standards."
'I WISH I COULD GO BACK'
Soares learned about the NCAA Clearinghouse from the University of Hawai'i football coaches, who were interested in recruiting him.
"That was the first thing they told me about, that I had to get my grades in line, and I had to get the NCAA Clearinghouse," Soares said.
By the time he filled out the form, he learned he was so far behind, he would miss a year of college while he worked to become eligible. Instead of joining the UH football team in the fall of 2005, he took courses last year at Hawai'i Pacific, where he could transfer to UH from if he earned 24 credits, because it doesn't offer football.
"I wish I knew everything about the NCAA Clearinghouse," said Soares, who joined the UH football team this season and is competing at linebacker. "I wish I could go back and get prepared, with SATs and required classes, so I didn't have to go the other route. I wish I could've gone straight to (UH) and not wasted a year."
Soares suggests that student-athletes should use all resources available to them.
"I think they should have a meeting to explain to the kids about all this stuff," Soares said. "Tell them what they need to know. If they want to go further, at least they know what they need to do to get to the next level."
Richard Haru, the athletic director at Castle High, said the department does hold informational meetings for parents and student-athletes with his college counselor, Nelson Chee.
"At the parents meeting, we mention the requirements for college," Haru said. "I tell them straight out their child may be athletically gifted, but they need to meet the academic requirements."
In the session, parents learn about the NCAA Clearinghouse, and have the opportunity there to go online and learn about the requirements.
GET AN EARLY JUMP
The PAIA's Sullivan, who is involved with every aspect of recruiting, aiding students to send out game film and transcripts, said athletes should know the classes to take and earn good grades beginning in their freshman year if their goal is to play in college.
Sullivan says students should begin filling out the Clearinghouse forms in their junior year, when the majority of their courses are completed.
"It's very easy to do," Sullivan said of the Clearinghouse forms.
Student-athletes and parents can learn more from the NCAA Clearinghouse Web site at www.ncaaclearinghouse.net.
COUNSELORS PLAY ROLE
Most high schools depend on college counselors to prepare their students for the rigors of applying to schools.
Moanalua High athletic director Joel Kawachi depends on college counselor Gwen Mau.
"I'm lucky ... (Mau) is excellent," he said. "If they are (athletes), she'll keep track of them and help them to fill out the NCAA Clearinghouse in their junior year.
"She lets me know if I have to write letters or if they need anything from my side."
Moanalua's athletic department "doesn't have an active role as much as I'd like," Kawachi said. "I think that's the thing a lot of schools have to improve on."
At Saint Louis School, which has a rich tradition of sending football players to Division I and II institutions, athletic director Todd Los Banos said being eligible for college is "a thing our coaches continually have to talk to our student-athletes about. It isn't just about athletics, you have to focus on academics."
So far, Los Banos said they "haven't had a problem with it. I'm sure some slipped through, but for the most part, everyone who has applied has been cleared."
Los Banos hosts meetings at which parents learn what their child needs to become academically eligible. Los Banos also brings in Sullivan for seminars, as well as college coaches to talk about expectations for recruitment. He said college coaches stress the importance of academics.
"It has to start at the younger ages, even their freshman year," Los Banos said. "If they have any inclination (to play college sports), they have to start as freshman."
Saint Louis' counselors are responsible for making sure the students have the right grades and classes to be eligible. But, he said, "It's up to the students as well. It's always good when the parent knows what's happening as well. Parents are starting to get more involved."
Joe Whitford, the athletic director at Kahuku High, which traditionally sends its football players to Division I and II schools, said it takes a combination of counselors, coaches, parents and teachers, as well as the student-athlete.
"It's a couple of factors. Kids know they want to play Division I, so it's instilled in them very early," he said.
Whitford added that because Kahuku is also an intermediate school, most students are familiar with the academic and athletic rigors before they reach high school.
"It helps that early on (that) they know, and they see the kids who precede them," Whitford said.
Football players who attend camps also are counseled.
"None of the coaches talked about football skill on the field. Every one of them talked about academics," Whitford said.
Ten Kahuku football players signed with Division I schools this past year, and all of them were academically eligible.
THREE MAIN COMPONENTS
Academic eligibility requires three main components: high school core courses, the grades student-athletes earn in those classes, and SAT or ACT test scores.
"The one that can trip you up the most — because you can always take another test — is dropping courses or taking other courses," said Todd Fleming, the Iolani School college counselor. "You don't have the catch-up time, if you are a senior, to take more classes."
Like Sullivan, Fleming suggested that beginning freshman year, students should be learning what classes they need to take.
"That way they can tentatively map out what they should be taking," Fleming said. "If you even think about playing Division I or II sports, keep an eye on the course selection."
If a student knows what courses are needed, sometimes they can take the same class again and use the higher grade, and the NCAA will accept it, he said.
Iolani uses the possibility of playing sports in college "as a motivational tool," for earning good grades from the start, Fleming said. "What they are doing now has ramifications of playing college ball."
Reach Leila Wai at firstname.lastname@example.org.