By Julie Angell
The Meridian Times
The transition from high school to college athletics can be tough, so student-athletes at Okemos High School are getting support from school officials.
The recruiting process can be confusing for both the athlete being recruited and for the parent, Ira Childress, athletic director of Okemos High School, said. That’s why OHS created a recruiting summit this year. Coaches from division I, II, and III schools held a panel and discussed what they’re looking for in recruits and what the process looks like if they are interested in athletics at the collegiate level. Both Parents and athletes were able to listen and learn more about the process of becoming a college athlete.
Childress, who has experience working at the national NCAA office in Indianapolis, wanted to foster more understanding and confidence in the OHS athletes.
“I have invested interest in trying to help students get to the next level,” Childress said.
Last year, 14 graduating athletes from OHS who signed to colleges. Out of those 14, a handful attend Michigan State University, University of Michigan, Stanford and division II and III schools.
“We have a lot of kids that go on,” Childress said. “Compared to most schools, they don’t have this many college athletes year in and year out like we do here at OHS.”
Besides the newly introduced recruiting summit, Childress said he makes sure to keep open communication with the high school athletes, coaches and parents. College athletics are changing, so he’s making sure to educate athletes on how to transition into high learning and training.
“If they do want to go on to play at the next level, it is going to be different than high school,” Childress said. “It’s gonna feel more like a full-time job.”
Blake Turner, Natalie Bloniarz, Vanessa Nigg and Emily Struble are all seniors at Okemos High School and have recently committed to play sports in college. Their high school athletic achievements range from all-state and dream team titles to consecutive team wins at the state level. Here, they discuss how they got started and what keeps them motivated to keep on playing.
The transition from high school athletics to college athletics comes with a lot more responsibility and goal-setting, according to Deborah Feltz, an MSU Department of Kinesiology professor.
“I think it’s really about short-term goals that you set for yourself, and not think about long-term situations,” Deborah Feltz, MSU department of kinesiology professor, said. “It’s what I need to do to improve myself during the pre-season, and then the first part of the season the goal should just be making the team, depending on the college they’re going, to whether or not they’ve been recruited as a scholarship athlete or they’re at a D3 school or even a D2 school where they’re a walk on.”
“Graduating high school students start to see that there’s more out there than athletics, and if they haven’t overidentified with being an athlete they oftentimes say, ‘I’m not gonna be a professional, there’s more to life here, theres more fun playing on rec teams, club teams, and I’m gonna go expand my life.’”
For incoming college freshmen athletes to be successful, they need healthy, communicative relationships with their coaches, the way a guidance counselor would with a student, Feltz said.
Along with setting challenging goals, budgeting time and keeping up with academics, Feltz’s advice to transitioning student-athletes is to avoid comparison.
“If you’re looking around at potential competition, at potential teammates, rather than doing what you need to do to get better, that can be discouraging,” Feltz said.
Kristelle Yewah was one of the 14 student-athletes at OHS who graduated this past year and went on to play college sports. She was the winningest player for OHS girls’ soccer.
“I have such a strong passion for the game that I have been playing since I was 4, and I still have many things on my list that I want to accomplish as a soccer player, and being a college athlete was definitely one of them,” Yewah said.
Yewah said she’s noticed that there are no “bad” teams MSU plays in soccer, and most games come down to the last minute. The competition has improved greatly since her high school days.
“My mental toughness has definitely gotten stronger,” Yewah said. “I was expecting this all; girls to be bigger, faster, stronger, and more technical, and that is exactly what it has been.”