New College Fair Targets Athletes

By Staff

Athletic Management, 15.3, April/May 2003,

While the very best high school athletes are recruited by top Division I athletic programs and less-skilled but savvy students send out videos to college coaches at all levels, those athletes unsure of how to take their talents to the college arena continue to fall though the cracks.

A new college fair is helping to change that, however, and it may be coming to a city near you. Career Council, based in New York City, has launched a series of regional student-athlete college fairs that are proving beneficial to both high school athletes and small college athletic departments.

For colleges with smaller recruiting budgets and lower visibility, the fair provides the opportunity to meet thousands of potential students in a single morning. For student-athletes, it offers a chance to learn about a variety of schools and get a clearer picture on the complexities of paying for a college education.

“This is for the kids who may have a chance to get a [small school partial] college scholarship or at least a chance to play at a non-scholarship school, but may not have a realistic picture of what exists out there,” says Chuck Scarpulla, Director of Student-Athlete Programs for Career Council.

There is no fee for the high school students, while the colleges pay $375 apiece to participate. Some colleges have been represented by just the athletic director, while others have also brought coaches, admissions department personnel, and financial aid officers.

So far, each of the fairs has drawn about 2,000 student-athletes and between 50-60 colleges. Most colleges are from the NCAA Division III ranks, with some Division II and NAIA schools and community colleges also participating. A handful of smaller Division I schools have also been present.

The format for the student-athlete fairs is essentially the same, regardless of the location. Career Council provides free bus service to and from the fair, which is usually held on a college campus or convention center. They also provide security staff and a hot breakfast buffet.

On the way to the event, which is scheduled on a weekday morning, student-athletes are given a brief overview by Career Council staff of what to expect from the fair, an explanation of NCAA recruiting rules, and a list of potential questions to ask the visiting college representatives. At the site, they’re given a calendar that Scarpulla has prepared to help them plan the year-long process of applying to college and a tote bag for collecting all the material they’ll receive that day.

“What’s great is that it was an athletic recruiting fair,” says Ted Hurwitz, Executive Director of the City University of New York (CUNY) Athletic Conference, who attended the fair held at Iona. “When I go to any number of other college fairs, I have to find the athletes. But at that particular fair, everybody was interested in athletics.

“Most of the fairs I go to, I’ll talk to 15 or 20 kids—maybe,” continues Hurwitz. “At Iona, I had three times as many, from a lot of different sports. And I would guess that only 10 percent of them were aware of CUNY before they came.”

“It’s a mutually beneficial experience,” says J.W. Smith, Executive Director of the Department of Sports Administration for the Chicago Public Schools, which hosted the fair in Chicago. “The kids benefit from being exposed to different schools and seeing 50 college counselors at one location. The colleges benefit from having a representative visit with 2,000 kids at one time. The school system, the city, and the whole community benefit by having these kids go on to college.”

Organizers have also made sure that the fairs comply with NCAA recruiting guidelines. “Since it’s a general meeting, it’s not counted as a recruiting visit for the colleges,” says Scarpulla.

“We’re trying to bring everybody together,” continues Scarpulla. “The kids get a general foundation of knowing what each school has to offer, not only from an academic point of view, but from an athletic and financial aid point of view.”

Isaiah Wiggins, a Prosser High School football player who attended the Chicago fair, dreams of getting a Division I scholarship, but knows that may be unrealistic. He became interested in Dana College and Michigan Tech through the fair. “They’re not my first choices,” he told the Chicago Tribune, “but it’s something to fall back on if I don’t make it to a Division I school. As long as I get an education.”

“I like how they answer all your questions here,” Christal Reed, a student at Dunbar High School, who also attended the Chicago fair, told the Chicago Tribune. “I learned that you are not just a number to colleges. They are interested in you.”

“It opened their eyes about all the schools they really hadn’t thought about,” says Mike Meade, Athletic Director at Saunders Trades and Technical High School in Yonkers, N.Y., which sent a busload of students to last fall’s fair at Iona. “It gave juniors and seniors a lot of information on colleges in our area and what they have to offer, which is very important. Because a lot of times, the kids don’t really start thinking about college until it’s too late.”

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