Athletes go the extra mile to acquire scholarships

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Bill Wade, Post-GazetteUniversity of Pittsburgh hurdler Julianna Reed, left, practices in Cost Center on campus. Her performance led to a scholarship.
By Eleanor Chute
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Denny DiPasquale, 21, of Ross, has been playing basketball since he could walk and realized by the time he was a high school junior that he could become good enough to win a college scholarship.

He practiced hard in the summer before his senior year, improving his game at North Hills High School.

Tony Tye, Post-GazetteDenny DiPasquale has a basketball scholarship at Point Park University. Here he practices with the school's team.

Now he's a senior majoring in sports management at Point Park University -- on a full athletic scholarship.

Few high school athletes go on to play on the college team or win a scholarship.

Many who do receive only partial awards. Some play at schools not permitted to give scholarships under NCAA rules.

"A lot of people think this is why their child is playing sports in high school, to try to get that scholarship. That's the worst reason why they should be playing sports in high school," said Leon Strimel, guidance counselor at Thomas Jefferson High School in West Jefferson Hills.

"You have to be very realistic in what you can do and where you can play," he said. "If you're 5 foot 2 and playing basketball, you're not going to be going to UCLA on a full scholarship, even though you may be a tremendous basketball player at our school here."

Several organizations govern intercollegiate sports: The NCAA, which is the National Collegiate Athletic Association; the NAIA, the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics; the NJCAA, the National Junior College Athletic Association, and the NCCAA, the National Christian College Athletic Association.

The NCAA, which includes more than 1,000 schools, limits scholarships in each sport in its Division I and Division II schools. In some sports, there is an equivalent number of scholarships, whereby two half scholarships, for example, count as one.

NCAA Division III schools cannot award athletic scholarships.

Some families mistakenly think academic awards at some Division III schools are athletic ones when they are not.

To make sure the schools aren't giving athletic awards disguised as academic ones, the NCAA now evaluates all freshmen awards to ensure athletes don't get extra money, said Michelle Vettorel, director of financial aid at Washington & Jefferson College, a Division III school.

The NAIA, which has about 300 schools, also has limits on scholarships by sport. Academic awards earned by athletes do not count against the limit.

The NJCAA includes about 500 junior colleges -- most of them public colleges -- that can offer a limited number of scholarships.

The NCCAA has its own Division I and Division II. Its Division I, which includes 47 Christian liberal arts colleges, permits athletic scholarships. Its Division II, which includes 55 Bible schools, does not.

All of the NCCAA Division I schools are members of the NAIA or NCAA Division II or Division III, so their scholarship policies prevail.

If a student doesn't win an athletic scholarship, there may still be possibilities as a walk-on. Some walk-ons -- as well as athletes who start with small scholarships -- perform well enough to earn big scholarships.

At the University of Pittsburgh, Julianna Reed, 21, of Hampton, now a senior in nursing, was recruited in track and field by several schools but wasn't offered a full scholarship anywhere.

Ms. Reed wanted to go to a school with a good health-care program and had a chance for a quarter scholarship at Pitt, but didn't decide in time. She received only money for books her first year.

But because of her performance, she received a scholarship covering half of her tuition, room and board as a sophomore. She had a full scholarship for junior and senior years.

Ms. Reed, who started running in sixth grade, said, "I really wanted to do it. You just have to be persistent."

To have a chance for an athletic scholarship, Mr. Strimel said, "No. 1, you have to have good grades. That opens up a major set of doors. No. 2, do well in your sports."

He cautioned that more important than sports is whether the college or university has the educational program the student wants.

In major sports, college recruiters are on the lookout for top players. "If you're that good, they'll find you," said Mr. Strimel.

Some minor sports, however, do not have as many recruiters, and the athlete will need to take steps to be noticed.

"You have to be a self-advocate, especially in the minor sports. Don't be afraid to contact the coach. Make sure your coach and you agree as to what level you can participate at."

High school coaches sometimes call college coaches to let them know a player is good and available. Players also can call college coaches, invite them to see them play and send them profiles and videotapes.

Each level has its own set of recruiting rules that must be followed, including when college coaches and players can contact each other.

Mr. DiPasquale, who also plays baseball at Point Park, said his high school basketball coach, Wayne Brookhart, put the word out to college coaches who came to watch him play.

Mr. DiPasquale's dad, Augie, who played basketball at California University of Pennsylvania, also knew the Point Park head basketball coach, Bob Rager, during his playing days.

Mr. DiPasquale didn't put together a highlight tape.

"I think it's better for a coach to see you in person, see the competition. Everybody can make a tape of their best plays, and they're going to look good," he said. Mr. DiPasquale's high school grades were near a 4.0, another plus.

"Coaches don't want to have to be nervous that you're not going to eligible or go to class and make the grade," he said.

Some athletes go to private and college summer sports camps to showcase their skills for coaches.

Mr. Strimel helps to run the Metro Index Football Camp, which attracts 300 high school athletes in the spring.

He said the benefit is finding out how an athlete competes against other athletes from other schools. He said some college coaches come to watch, but they usually are looking for particular players.

He said some universities make thousands of dollars in the summer inviting students to campus for camps in one sport or another.

"They think they're going to get exposure to this scholarship. If you're good enough, they're going to find you anyway," he said.

Info online about sports scholarships
Click on 'College Game Plan' for campus finder.

National Collegiate Athletic Association site

National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics

National Junior College Athletic Association

Check NCAA eligibility rules

National Christian College Athletic Association


Education writer Eleanor Chute can be reached at or 412-263-1955.


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