Families gamble select team expenses will result in a scholarship
adi Bishop was willing to drive seven hours — one way — just for practice. Her mother, Kristen Counce, estimates that the family from Jonesboro, Ark., spent $15,000 to $20,000 a year so Bishop could play select softball for the McKinney-based Texas Glory club.
“People are like, ‘You all have lost your mind,’” Counce said. “It’s been a ride, but I would do nothing different. It’s so worth it.”
That’s because it paid off with Bishop getting a scholarship offer and committing to Oregon, a team that was ranked No. 1 in the country and reached the final four of the Women’s College World Series in 2014.
Many coaches, both for high school and select teams, said that it has become a requisite to play club sports in order to land a Division I scholarship in a major team sport other than football. If an athlete wants to be seen by coaches from the biggest colleges, it often requires paying big money to play for a high-profile club team that travels across the nation.
“If you’re playing on a top team, and this is not my club, this is just club volleyball in general, with all travel expenses I bet you’re paying between $5,000 and $10,000 a year,” said Prosper coach Erin McClanahan, who is the assistant coaching director for the Excel Volleyball Club. “I’ve heard there are people that have paid up to $15,000 because they’re traveling so much, the whole family is going, they’re flying, they’re staying in downtown hotels.”
The 81 Dallas-area high school coaches for baseball, softball, basketball, volleyball and soccer who responded to a SportsDay survey had a combined 53 athletes sign with a Division I college last school year. Only two — West Virginia baseball signee Cole Carter of Allen and Incarnate Word basketball signee Jazmine Holman from Arlington Bowie — didn’t play for a select team while in high school.
“I have not had a kid receive any level of scholarship in softball without playing select ball,” Mansfield Timberview coach Donya Mooney said. “I have had a few not play due to the cost or play at lower levels, and it definitely hurts them in regards to recruiting.”
Baylor baseball coach Steve Smith, TCU baseball coach Jim Schlossnagle, Texas softball coach Connie Clark, Baylor softball coach Glenn Moore and TCU women’s soccer coach Eric Bell said in emails that every player on their roster played for a club team. All but Smith said they do most or all of their recruiting through club events, which can serve as one-stop shopping for college coaches when scouting elite recruits.
“It’s a challenge for a lot of these parents,” said Kevin Shelton, who manages the Texas Glory organization that Bishop spent 21/2 years with. “They’ve not bought into the idea that they have to spend that kind of money early. Those who we can’t convince ... in many cases, their kids can get left behind.
“It’s hard to understand when a kid is 14 years old that if they don’t get in front of Texas A&M, Texas, it’s going to be a challenge to get recruited by them.”
The cost of college tuition is soaring, and the NCAA reports that the average college student graduates with $35,200 in debt. At ncaa.org, it says that the average value per year of a full scholarship is $15,000 for an in-state public school, $25,000 for an out-of-state public school and $35,000 at a private school.
But many families decide it’s not worth the expense of club sports to chase a scholarship. In SportsDay’s survey, 72 percent of the high school coaches said they have had players either quit club sports or not play at all because of the cost.
Episcopal School of Dallas senior Christina Gordon hasn’t played club soccer since she was a sophomore. In a three-year span starting in eighth grade, Gordon broke her femur and tore the ACL in both knees, all while playing for the Dallas Texans.
Gordon’s father, Irwin, said Texans players sign a contract and pay their club dues for the year upfront, which are very substantial. There are no refunds, even if the athlete is injured and not playing or decides to quit because of issues with playing time or how they are treated by a coach.
“It doesn’t really matter that you’re not there. Somebody is going to take your place, and you’ve already paid your money,” Irwin Gordon said. “Every family should be aware of the obligations they make when they sign a contract.”
Only about 2 percent of high school athletes are awarded athletic scholarships to compete in college, according to ncaa.org. At NCAA Division I schools, each player on scholarship in football (FBS), men’s basketball, women’s basketball, women’s gymnastics, women’s tennis and women’s volleyball receives a full-ride scholarship.
In all other sports, there may be some full rides, but it is more common for the scholarships to be divided into partial scholarships and spread among a number of athletes. Smith and Schlossnagle said they have no players on a full ride, and Moore has only two.
“Across all Division I college baseball, the average scholarship player is paying 57 percent of the cost to attend his college,” Smith said.
Every bit of scholarship money can make a difference. Even though it’s estimated that the cost of attending Oregon next school year for a nonresident will be $45,375, Bishop will have most or all of her school paid for when her athletic scholarship is combined with academic scholarships. Mesquite Poteet girls soccer coach Kelly Thomas said many athletes have a goal of playing Division I until they learn they can get much more financial help going the junior college or smaller college route.
“We don’t expect our students to play on select basketball teams at Crandall. We have signed four boys to basketball scholarships in the past five years. Those scholarships have an estimated and combined four-year value near $150,000,” Crandall coach Stan Short said. “Instead of investing money in a select team that can’t guarantee a scholarship, parents could invest that money in a college fund.”
Coppell junior Madeline Guderian quit club soccer when she was going into middle school and chose to spend the money on private school, but she has committed to play for North Texas. Allen’s Carter didn’t play select baseball during high school, and only after he had signed with West Virginia and graduated in the spring did he decide to play this summer. The two-sport standout spent past summers in an offseason training program of weight lifting and running to prepare him for football and baseball.
No cost — for some
The U.S. Soccer Federation has development academy teams for boys at the under-14, 16 and 18 age groups, and full-time players in those programs aren’t allowed to play high school soccer. Elite players hoping to play for a topflight college, a national team or professionally often choose the academy route over playing for their school.
One day, all soccer players may have to choose between a club and their high school. ESD girls coach Mike Renshaw said there is a movement toward the clubs requiring their players to sign contracts that include a clause that the players not play for their school.
FC Dallas’ development academy teams are entities of the Major League Soccer franchise, so they are fully funded by the pro team and there is no cost for the players. This is the first year that Andromeda FC, a nonprofit organization run by volunteers, has development academy teams that are fully funded.
“We’ve got an awful lot of kids coming out that wouldn’t have been able to play before because they couldn’t afford it,” Andromeda FC chairman John Watters said.
Clubs provide the chance to compete with and against the best talent. Texas Titans coach Scott Pospichal said that in the first game the boys basketball club ever played at the Nike EYBL level, the opponent’s starting lineup included Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins — the No. 1 overall picks in the last two NBA drafts — as well as 2014 first-round pick Tyler Ennis. The Titans’ Class of 2013 team included Plano Prestonwood Christian-ex Julius Randle, the No. 7 pick in this year’s NBA draft, and fellow McDonald’s All-American Matt Jones from DeSoto.
There is no cost for players on either of the Titans’ two teams — which take chartered flights to tournaments — because the club is sponsored by Dallas billionaire Kenny Troutt. Deron Williams Elite, a club sponsored by NBA star Deron Williams from The Colony, also has two fully funded teams.
But Deron Williams Elite has five other teams that aren’t sponsored. Scott Smith, the club’s director of finance, said this year it cost each player on a ninth-grade team about $2,000, including travel. The Dallas Mustangs had been sponsored by Adidas, so there was no cost for any of their basketball players, but that sponsorship ended and now athletes pay for everything. The club doesn’t charge dues, so players pay on a per-tournament basis.
What Bishop’s family paid isn’t the norm in softball, or even for those playing for the Texas Glory. But to play for a high-level softball team in the 16-and-under division — which is where the majority of the recruiting is done, so it requires the most travel — it can cost between $8,000 to $10,000 a year. And “that’s conservative,” Texas Glory’s Shelton said.
Even at the 12-and-under and 14-and-under levels, Shelton said it may cost $3,000 or $4,000 a year. “It’s getting more costly to play 14-and-under at a high level, because now college coaches are actually paying attention to eighth-graders,” he said.
Worth the expense?
Southlake Carroll coach Ryan Mitchell, also a coach for the Skyline Juniors club, said volleyball players at the top high schools will have trouble making their school team if they don’t play club. Colleyville Heritage senior Anna Walsh, who has committed to Virginia, said everyone on the varsity at her school plays club and “I would recommend it to anyone that wanted to play Division I.”
Walsh plays for Texas Advantage Volleyball, where it can cost up to $5,500 a year — not including airfare — to be on a top team in the 15 to 18 age groups. Walsh’s team went to five out-of-state tournaments this year.
For some, the cost is worth it. TAV president/owner John Sample said “we average between 25 and 30 scholarships every year, and that’s 18-year-olds. We have 17s and 16s that get scholarship offers.” Mitchell already has three 15-year-olds on his club team with full-ride scholarship offers, and “we’re going to these club tournaments and we leave with a handful of business cards from colleges.”
The Dallas Tigers had 30 players drafted by Major League Baseball teams from 2010 to 2012, and this year pitcher Michael Kopech from Mount Pleasant was selected in the first round. The Tigers’ organization has 30 teams, for ages 8 to 18, and club founder Tommy Hernandez said costs can range from $1,200 to $2,500 a year before paying for travel, hotels and meals.
Those types of fees — which cover different things for each club but may include team expenses, coaches’ fees and travel, practice facilities, uniforms, equipment, insurance and tournament fees — are common. They’re also rising because it’s costing more to enter tournaments.
“Just a handful of years ago, the average cost of tournaments was down around $400 or $500 per tournament. Now the average cost is closer to $1,000 per tournament at the high school level,” said David Hadeler, who runs the McKinney Marshals baseball organization.
But everything is relative. The father of a Marshals player, who has a daughter in competitive cheerleading, told Hadeler that, “He pays far more for his daughter to cheer than he does in baseball.”
There are ways to play club sports for those who can’t afford it. Teams have fundraisers so athletes can raise money to pay dues and other club-related expenses. TAV has matching fund and scholarship programs, and about 100 athletes pay a good portion of their dues by working at the club, at tournaments, at Rangers games or other places.
Mitchell said “as my kids get older, I’ve started to wonder how am I going to afford to do this on a teaching salary ... if [club] is something they want to do.” He helps those with similar predicaments.
“Every year I’ll have a couple of kids who really want to get better, who really want to play club, whose parents just can’t afford it,” Mitchell said. “When that happens, I try to use my network in the club world and try to get them in situations where they can do some sort of work program. Usually clubs are run by very good people who want the best for kids. If they have a kid who is really in need and can benefit from a club situation, they really work to help those kids.”
Link to Article: Club Ball - Club sports offer exposure — but at a steep price