College athletic recruitment is evolving to fit the current competitive climate encouraging student athletes to commit to collegiate programs as early as middle school.
For high school athletic director Dustin Kerley who has been the schools director for approximately two years, being able to watch his students grow as athletes is always rewarding.
“I can think back to moments when I’m working with students in class, on the field, or in the weight room, they’re all good memories,” said Kerley. “When you recognize work that goes on behind the scenes, it's really rewarding to think back to those moments when students are going through the recruitment process.” said Keley.
Troy Heustess, senior associate athletics director at Appalachian, graduated high school in 1970. Remembering his experience playing baseball at the collegiate level, he admits that the recruitment process today is “a completely different animal.”
“It was very informal then,” Heustess said “Now universities are receiving commitments from athletes at differing ages, some of them from students in 7th and 8th grade.”
As the nature of athletics becomes more competitive, Heustess acknowledges that early recruitment is becoming more prevalent.
“When I was in high school, everyone played everything and when you finished, then you would figure out what you wanted to do,” Heustess said. However, today Heustess sees a change of pace in athlete’s mentalities, they are now committing their energy to a single sport.
“You have kids who are ten, eleven, twelve years old and someone is encouraging them saying ‘you need to quit playing basketball, you need to quit playing football, you need to stop focusing on baseball and instead focus on playing ice hockey’ for example” Heustess said.
With the increasing pressure for student-athletes to make themselves more competitive, Heustess said, “they’re in the gym at five in the morning at five years old and they never do anything else.”
Not only are student athletes feeling the pressure of competition, universities are also turning to early recruitment in order to stay ahead of the game. “Everybody's doing it. It's a nationwide thing,” Heustess said.
Heustess says that it is hard to track the effects of early recruitment and its effects on collegiate athletic programs because of its nation wide influence and the effect it has on athletics overall.
“We’re having to keep up. The university; that means, the board of Trustees, the administration, everybody not just athletics has committed itself to being a division I program on the national scene. In order to do that, we have to follow the lead that everyone else is following as long as it is legal and ethical,” Heustess said.
Heustess says that this does not necessarily negatively affect the student athletes. “There are all kinds of things in place, now more than ever to protect the student-athletes,” Heustess said.
Shelly Hoerner, softball head coach, acknowledges that the recruitment process has changed since the last twenty years. She also states that there needs to be a change in the commitment process for student athletes.
“We’re trying to slow down our recruitment process. Having such young athletes having to make a decision like that at that age, I feel is not very healthy. Our career is based on whether a 6th, 7th, 8th grader can perform five years from the time they are recruited,” said Hoerner.
Prospect camps were especially popular for softball players Baylee Morton and Julianna Roupas.
“Prospect camps are a big deal now,” said Morton.
“Colleges will hold camps for people who want to get recruited,” said Roupas, “The coaches watch people showcase their skills.”
Prospect camps are popular among competitive athletes because it gives them the opportunity to show college coaches, scouts, and recruiters thow they perform.
The coaches all watch from their clipboards, it's all really intimidating,” Morton said.