Beyond High School Athletics

Department: Athletics

By Diane Pizarro

As newly graduated seniors prepare to embark on their college journeys, many have dreams of playing sports beyond Punahou. A handful of students have signed letters of intent to play in college. Still more might dream of walking on to a team once they arrive at their college destination.

In reality, however, less than 5 percent of high school athletes go on to play in the NCAA. To give students and parents a better understanding of college athletics and the recruitment process, the Athletics Department teamed with College Counseling in March to present a forum, "Athletics at the Next Level," sponsored by the O-Men and Na Wahine Pa'ani o Punahou.

Experts agree there are benefits to playing sports beyond high school. "I learned so much from athletics. I learned valuable lessons like life isn't fair. I learned the value of failure is not in falling down but in getting up," said keynote speaker, Daniel Saracino, assistant provost for enrollment at University of Notre Dame and a former distance runner. "There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about some of those lessons I learned as a student-athlete. I also learned that my mind would carry me a lot further than my legs," he said.

For many student-athletes, particularly those who may have been among the best in their sport at their high school, it can prove disheartening to learn that the competition is much stiffer at the college level.

On average, Saracino said, 5 percent of high school football players will play for Division I, II or III schools and only 1 percent of high school football players will get drafted by the NFL. Neither Ivy League schools nor Division III schools award athletic scholarships. Furthermore, the NCAA caps the number of scholarships allowed per sport, per school. For instance, a Division I school is permitted to award up to 85 football scholarships but only 13 men's basketball, 12 softball and 8 women's water polo scholarships per institution.

Myron Arakawa '66, Punahou's director of college counseling, said he is concerned that the publicity surrounding National Signing Day, when varsity athletes across Hawai'i sign letters of intent to play for NCAA Division I or II schools, can lead to false impressions and parents' unrealistic expectations. "We want to alleviate the misconception that there is a pot of gold at the end of the athletic rainbow after high school," he said. "Those scholarships are few and far between."

Parents should encourage their children to pursue activities that will allow them to develop their own character, Saracino said. That may lie in sports, but it might also be found in theater or art. "There is a joy to be found in athletics, but it's not a joy for everyone. Find what is their joy and stay with it," he advised.

While acknowledging that athletic scholarships are hard to come by, Punahou Athletic Director Jeaney Garcia encourages students to get involved. "Sports teach the value of teamwork and the appreciation that if you work hard, you can make things happen for yourself. Sports build confidence and self-esteem, which can help us all, no matter what career we choose."

Arakawa agreed, and added, "Colleges that have no or minimal athletic scholarships are still interested in talented student-athletes who have enthusiastically participated and excelled in a high school sport. This could be a competitive admissions factor at a selective college that does not offer athletic grants."

With 20-plus years of teaching and coaching experience under his belt from elementary schools to NCAA Division I teams, former UC Santa Barbara track and field coach John Amneus emphasized the importance of finding the right fit when making college choices, and that includes considering a school's location and size, the weather, the coach and the academics, among other criteria. "I need to make sure those students want to be at my school and can meet the academic rigors. The gross anatomy is: If you get hit by a bus, will you stay here? And if they can answer that question and the answer is yes, then I know they'd be a good fit for my program and stick it out."

Punahou alumni also underscored the importance of finding the right fit during a panel discussion alongside their parents.

Todd Iacovelli '02 had dominated the ILH and cross-country and track while at Punahou, holding the 1,500-meter and 3,000-meter state records. He chose the University of Michigan, which at the time had the best running program in the country. "I was hurt more than 60 percent of the time," he recalls. "When I did compete, I was never the best guy on the team."

The size of the school also was an issue for Iacovelli. "I never saw the same people, and I never really had a personal relationship with my teachers. In my freshman chem class, there were 647 people in the lecture hall. It was scary to ask a question. And to be honest, that was very difficult for me," he said.

After graduating with honors from the University of Michigan, Iacovelli returned home to get his MBA from Hawai'i Pacific University and discovered he had one more year of running eligibility. "In retrospect, I think HPU was probably a better fit for me athletically," he said.

Kynan Pang '02 was a Punahou linebacker and a leader on the varsity team. "Coming from Punahou, being a competitive school in the ILH, and being a contributor in sports, I felt like I could do it all," he said. "It was a humbling experience to continue playing sports under the Div III level."

Pang acknowledged he had always wanted to play college football, and playing Division III was preferable to not playing at all. "It's important to follow the goals and dreams you have for yourself as an individual," he said.

Saracino stressed the importance of the college counselors in helping seniors make tough decisions. "They can follow up with coaches and schools in ways that you can't."

Parent Gwen Gronau '72 Pacarro, who sat on the panel with her daughter, Noel Pacarro '98 Brown, said ultimately, parents should trust their children to find the right fit. "If you have the opportunity to see the schools, I really encourage it, because you'll see it through their eyes. It's not your decision; you're not going to be the one who is there, walking to the library, going to classes," she said. "You want to be there to support it, but let them go through it. This is the process of becoming an adult."

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