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It’s been 25 years since I’d been in touch with my childhood friend Nicole. But I couldn’t resist reaching out to her recently, after seeing a Facebook post, to ask her if she would share her amazing story. After carpooling all over the Mid-Atlantic for years, and spending tens of thousands of dollars on training and gear, her son received a scholarship to a Top 10 Lacrosse school and was named an All-American. Wow! Here’s her story….
Every year I sit down with my checkbook and bank statements and make myself sick. It’s the annual accounting of the “Sports Fund.” No one asks me to forensically calculate this figure, I just do it for my own perverse curiosity. Back in 2009 when one son was playing on a nationally ranked AAU team, and another son was playing travel lacrosse, the amount tallied over $15,000 FOR TWO KIDS! I remember everyone telling me, “the boys will get college scholarships and it will all pay for itself”. I really never intended that to be the case…but here’s the story of how it all ended up for my family.
WHERE IT ALL STARTED
When most people think of a 15 year old’s life they imagine awkward parties, driver’s education, and finding your groove in high school; not overnight recruiting trips to a college in another state away from your parents, bunking with kids four to five years older than you. But this is exactly where my 15 year old son found himself early on in his sophomore year of high school- this is the life of a Division 1 lacrosse recruit. As my husband and I drove away after handing off our son with pillow in hand & backpack securely on his back to coaches who were virtually strangers other than some infrequent phone calls and one brief meeting on a sideline, we reflected back on the road that led us there. Or more accurately, I turned to my husband and said, “What the hell did we just do? Do you think he will be ok?” See, this lacrosse passion started late compared to his teammates and competition from the tri-state area. My son did not start playing lacrosse until 5th grade, he was 10 years old. That’s like way late in the game compared to the Long Island natives who have a stick in their hand by preschool. My boy was always an active, aggressive kid. He played tee-ball, flag football, soccer, basketball, baseball, and eventually tackle football. We noticed that he excelled in sports that involved contact and soon he was recognized as a stand-out football player. He quickly tired of baseball by age 10 and joined a local recreational lacrosse program in a neighboring town. At that time, he was the only boy from his grade who was playing lacrosse. In fact, he was one of the only kids in our entire town that played the sport. He took to it quickly. As a midfielder, there were many things about the game that he enjoyed. He loved the contact, of course. But he also loved the pace of the game, the fast breaks, the dodging, the defensive challenges of covering other midfielders. If you know the game of lacrosse, middies are the workhorses of the team, all the work and none of the glory they say. That is my son, a workhorse. At first, Lacrosse for me was like getting off a plane in another country where everyone speaks a different language. “Wheels!” “Yardsale!” And what came to be the most amusing sideline bellow, “Get on your horse!” I had no idea what these parents were screaming but they did it enthusiastically and pretty soon I was able to decode these screams. My mother-in-law even bought the book, Lacrosse for Dummies, in the cutest attempt to be a supportive Grandma.
When my son was in 7th grade, he asked to try out for a travel summer team. Other than the financial commitment, I had no idea how that team would end up shaping the next five summers of our lives. My son made the “B” squad as a midfielder that first year. He felt slighted for not making the “A” team and I remember my husband clearly telling him, “Show the coaches you belong on the A team if you don’t like where you are.” It was good advice, and just the kind of thing my level-headed husband would say. In fact, more parents should PARENT (as in the verb- to raise and guide your child) with such advice, We did not call, email or speak to the coach about the “B” team placement. We did not complain to other parents on the sidelines. We did not threaten to pull our son from the team if they didn’t move him. These are all tactics I have seen parents take unsuccessfully. We just accepted it and told our son to work HARDER. Looking back, I think this moment was a defining factor in my son’s athletic development. He used that “B” squad status to motivate himself, every practice, every game, making the “A” team became his goal. My husband encouraged him to write down his goals each year, he believed that saying and writing your goals made them legitimate and then you became accountable to achieve them. Even now, coaches will describe my son as hard-working, a grinder. I sometimes wonder if we complained to the coaches (like so many other parents do) if things would have turned out differently.
DOG DAYS OF SUMMER LACROSSE
Summer lacrosse for our family meant traveling from New Jersey to Long Island, Upstate New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. When most people were heading for the beach, we were packing the car and heading to a hotel so we could be up and at the tournament fields by the usual 8am report time. There were no weekends lounging poolside in June and July, it was even hard to fit in family BBQs. In the beginning, our extended family did not understand how we let a team dictate our summer schedule so harshly, but when they heard our son talk about lacrosse, they quickly understood why our family was making this commitment. Summer lacrosse has a very specific sensory imprint. If you’ve ever been to a team tent area with 20 sweating teenage boys in the heat of summer, you cannot forget that smell… ever. Then multiply that smell by 30 teams. The alpha moms sent out their Sign-Up Genius lists to organize the plethora of food and drinks necessary for the team’s survival. And thank god for those alpha moms, us parents needed those fruit snacks as we were going on hour seven of the tournament day. Each family would bring collapsable chairs, beach chairs, stadium chairs, coolers, tents, wagons, umbrellas, sun shields, sunscreen, bug spray, you get the picture. Basically, if they sell it in Costco, you would see it at a lacrosse tournament.
I vividly remember my son’s first summer tournament, his team had played 5 games in a day. This is entirely normal for a summer lacrosse tournament. His team made it to the finals of their bracket and the championship game was tied at the end of regulation. Being new to the sport, we were not familiar with a Braveheart tie-breaker. The coach sent my son out for the face-off against the opponent, this Braveheart was a one on one format. The opposing player won the face-off and ran down the field to shoot, our goalie made a great save and passed it to my son who ran down the other end of the field and shot the ball – their goalie made a great save and fed the pass to his teammate who ran down to shoot only to be stopped by our goalie. This went on for another three shots… back and forth. If you know anything about lacrosse, this is virtually unheard of! There was so much running by the two midfielders that my son and the other boy were walking it up at one point, they were so exhausted. Eventually the the opposing goalie ran the ball up the field himself and scored to end the game. A loss in the books, but an what an amazing introduction to the sport!
The following year, when my son was in 8th grade he made the “A” squad for his summer travel team. Crossing that goal off his list, he replaced it with- “Starting line of middies”. Starting line usually means you are the most talented middies on the team. Even in the summer of his “rising freshmen” year there was already talk of recruiting among his teammates. To be honest, the summer travel team that we joined was a highly competitive organization and was run by two former college players who had many connections to the lacrosse world. The older Junior and Senior boys in the organization were being recruited and the boys on my sons team thought they would follow their lead. Let me be clear about this, lacrosse is like no other sport in the realm of recruiting. Most college coaches want to see how an athlete physically develops and matures before offering them a spot on their team, which is why the majority of college coaches wait until an athlete’s rising senior year to offer a scholarship or lock down a recruit. Lacrosse bucks all these accepted timelines. I have heard of 8th graders verbally committing to play lacrosse in college, that’s insanity! So with a freshman lacrosse player in high school, I found myself registering our son with the NCAA to make him college eligible. WHAT!
THE RECRUITING PROCESS
As we went thru the recruiting process with our 14 year old son, we got our own education alongside him. We learned that there are 12.5 scholarships per team for Division 1 lacrosse. Most teams carry a roster of 45-50 players. Perennial powerhouse Syracuse carries 60 players. Do the math. Number of scholarships divided by number of players means each player roughly gets a quarter scholarship. So the idea of a “free ride” is almost nonexistent in college lacrosse. If your child is academically successful, he could earn an academic scholarship, that’s the best case scenario. During that rising sophomore summer we talked to a lot of parents who had been thru the recruiting process. These experienced parents are the sherpas- the guides- to the newbie parents. Four years later, I am now included in this group. Now, parents with 13 year olds come up to me asking me recruiting advice, and I tell them my honest opinion. “Your child’s recruiting experience will be unique to your son.” There are so many variables that go into finding the right school for your child.
What I learned is that the number one most important factor in finding a school for your child to play collegiate sports is YOUR CHILD; not what you want or dream of for them.They control their destiny with their grades, most importantly. The first question coaches ask about is academics- what are their grades? For our 3.5 GPA son, we were extremely blessed to have a child who knew EXACTLY what he wanted: Division 1 lacrosse. Somewhere in the Northeast or mid-Atlantic. School size 5,000-15,000. Lots of major options because he is undecided. Once we filtered down all those requirements, we had a list of about 15 schools. We banked on 15 schools. Due to NCAA regulations, the only way a 15 year old can talk with a college coach is if the athlete initiates the communication. Do you think a 15 year old is capable of handling this responsibility efficiently without screwing it up? The answer is NO. And that’s where dear old mom comes in. The process involved excel spreadsheets, hours on laxpower.com, collegeboard.org and many bottles of wine. When the recruit questionnaire asks what type of music do you listen to, you can debate the answer with your 15 year old or husband for at least 3 glasses of wine. What does listening to Drake say about your character?
Was it easy? No. Was it stressful? Yes. I mentioned my level-headed husband earlier, he was literally and figuratively the calm in the storm. The first two weeks of the rising sophomore summer, my son’s team had three boys verbally commit to Division 1 schools. I was freaking out. Yes, I was happy for those kids but I was stressed out that the process wasn’t happening that quickly for us. On the first round of emails we sent, three schools replied back, “We are done recruiting for your son’s year. Thank you for the interest.” WHAT?!? He was only 15 years old, how could they be done already?!? While my husband’s mantra became, “He will end up where he’s supposed to”, my mantra became, “Send more emails. Call more coaches!” My son had phone calls with five Division 1 schools that summer and that fall he had unofficial visits with three of those schools. Squeezing those visits in during football season was hectic but he had a very definite impression of each school he visited. Having an overnight visit in a college dorm room as a 15 year old with 18 and 19 year olds will give you definite impressions.
The best way I can describe a recruiting trip to a college is that it’s like trying on a wedding dress for you moms out there. When you find the right one, you just know. Before we went on our first trip, I did my homework. I googled, “Questions to ask on a recruiting trip.” So while my husband and my son were asking about the kind of offense the team runs, and how many other middies they were recruiting from his year, I was fixated on the academic support that athletes receive, what majors the boys on the team were pursuing, how many hours of practice there were each week, and how many players graduate in four years. And don’t think we got off easy as parents. The prospective coaches wanted to get to know US. We were asked about our jobs, our educations, our family life. The reality of it hitting me when one coach said, “Our investment in your son, extends to your family. We want to get to know you so we can learn more about him.” Talk about pressure!
WHEN THE MAGIC HAPPENS
And then it all happened one night in March of his sophomore year: my son verbally committed to a Top 10 Division 1 lacrosse program. He was able to cross one of his goals off his list. He felt really confident about his choice. My son loved the coaches, the campus felt comfortable to him, the kids on the team were his type of kid, the best part was that the school is less than three hours away from our home. My husband and I were overjoyed for him. We were proud of what he accomplished, what we accomplished as a family. Make no mistake, this was a family accomplishment. I have other younger children that made sacrifices for their brother. It felt surreal to tell people he committed to a school. I could write much more about his junior and senior years of high school and his athletic career. His football team won two state championships. He received individual athletic awards for football and lacrosse, yet the one thing that never changed within him was his desire to excel, to work, to be the best that he could be. If anything, that desire has grown since achieving the successes and accolades he has been blessed with. My boy is a hard-working determined athlete playing a sport he loves. I didn’t think any moment could top that moment of him announcing his commitment to his college until this last spring. In the spring of my son’s senior year in high school, he was named as an All-American Lacrosse Player. Funny, I don’t remember seeing that goal written on his list.
Just last month, 18 of the 20 boys on my son’s summer travel lacrosse team made their way to their colleges and universities. 18 boys were able to earn scholarships to play college lacrosse. That’s an insane number and really speaks to the player development and quality of play my son was surrounded by each summer. In the heat of August, we dropped our son off to his freshmen dorm. The road to that exact moment feels long and winding because this is a journey that we have been on for almost five years since he was in 8th grade and decided he wanted to play Division 1 lacrosse. The coaches and the upperclassmen on the team met us in the parking lot, emptied our car and carried his bags up to his room. We met the other freshmen recruits and their parents and I tried my best to put names to faces knowing that these boys will now become his family away from home. This time as my husband and I drove away, I didn’t say, “What the hell did we just do?” We looked at each other and smiled knowingly and I said, “We did good. He’s ready.”
So for all sports parents out there who are on this same journey, if you have this dream for your son or daughter, if you have a child that wants to play collegiate sports; know this…. The road is not straight. The road is not easy. And you need to be realistic. The hours of driving carpools, endless carpools, feeding your children on the sidelines from a to-go container, cramming homework in the backseat of your car. The endless cycle of washing uniforms, “Fabreezing” equipment to get rid of a stink that will never leave, it is all worth it. So do the driving, the feeding, the washing, the supporting, the dreaming. When your child looks at you with intense pride and pure joy in their eyes about what they have achieved, there is no greater feeling of love and accomplishment.
Nicole is a proud sports mom, educator and good friend who survived the good, the bad and the ugly of youth sports to see her son receive a D1 Lacrosse Scholarship and be named an All-American Lacrosse player.
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