By Rob South
Legendary coach Pat Summit clenched her thighs, bracing against the next contraction . "I am not leaving until I get an answer!" she proclaimed. Summit was in the middle of a recruiting visit, she had flown halfway across the country, nine months pregnant, to recruit this woman for her University of Tennessee Volunteers Basketball Team; Labour or no labour, she was determined to succeed.
How much of this story is true and how much is myth is hard to determine, but the story certainly paints a stunning portrait of how important high school recruiting is to colleges in the United States. North of the border, recruiting is not quite as intense. That is not to say, however, that recruiting is not important to programs like the University of Calgary’s Dinosaurs.
"It is the life blood of your program," says women’s Head Coach Shawnee Harle. "If you can’t compete for the best players, you cannot be a national champion."
So how does the U of C compete for the best athletes? Athletic Director Don Wilson says the Dinos have a number of things going for them over other schools in the Canadian Interuniversity Athletic Union.
"The intangible is a tradition of excellence," says Wilson. "I think we have won more CIAU championships than any other school since we have been around."
Other advantages that the Dinos have include world-class athletic facilities, quality coaches and strong academics.
As Wilson is proud to state, "We have a very high student athlete to graduate ratio."
This is not to say that the Dinos do not have their challenges, and, as with many things around the U of C, they revolve around money. According to Wilson, Calgary is definitely at the low end of funding for CIAU teams.
"My understanding is the same sports at Mount Royal College have a larger budget than we do."
This leads to a backyard first approach. The most attention is paid to players in Calgary and surrounding area.
"You take care of your own backyard," explains Harle. "I go to at least one high school game a week."
Harle lists her priorities for recruiting in the following order: Calgary, the rest of Alberta, and British Columbia. Also, Harle faces a common challenge among coachesthe best time to recruit is during the season. Then of course, there is the challenge of competing with other schools.
"Competition for players is getting greater each year," explains Assistant Football Coach Jerry Friesen. This will be particularly true for the football team next year as another team is moved into the Western conference.
Generally, good players will be recruited by more than one Canadian school. The exceptional players may also receive offers from us colleges. Unlike CIAU schools, full scholarships can be offered by American schools; these scholarships often cover far more than the cost of tuition, sometimes ranging as high as $20,000 to $30,000 a year. CIAU schools can only offer third-party scholarships to players after their first year.
However, to the student athlete, money is not always everything. First-year basketball player Anna Bekkering chose the U of C over full scholarship offers from both the University of Tennessee’s and the University of Alabama’s volleyball teams. Bekkering was well aware of what she had to offer various programs.
"I am a quick learner, easy to get along with, and I work hard in practice. So they see the potential." But Bekkering decided to keep the student in the student athlete and came to Calgary "The academic programs at those schools are not as good as the U of C."
Bekkering’s decision to let academics play a key role in her choice may be part of a larger trend.
"Students are becoming more informed, they have more info available to them," says Friesen.
To best inform high school athletes of their choices and university requirements, the Dinos football program starts visiting players in grades 10 and 11. Dinos coaches want to know that the players they recruit have established the good habits necessary to succeed at university both as student and athlete. Their program suffers a bit from the fact that some rival universities have lower entrance requirements to certain programs.
The whole process of informing students of their options is very time consuming.
"Recruiting is something that the outsider would have no idea about the time and effort that is put into it," explains Harle. Her efforts must be paying off as last year Harle pulled off two major coups, getting Bekkering and convincing Alberta 4a player of the year, Laura Jablonski, to come here instead of going to Edmonton.
The successes and failures of Dinos’ teams for years to come will be dramatically affected by this year’s recruiting efforts. In the coming years it should be interesting to see the results.