By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A passion for playing soccer had Izzie Beal searching for opportunities to continue the sport in college, a challenge that included the pursuit of scholarship money.
The All-Empire standout at Montgomery pitched her abilities in tailored emails, a website, and campus visits. Even with all those efforts what Beal learned is a school picks the athlete.
Good for her then that the University of Northern Colorado wanted Beal as much as she hoped to play soccer at the NCAA Division I program.
“It was kind of hard to do. But I definitely feel it was worth it,” Beal said. “It’s really good to put yourself out there and have a lot of options.”
Beal’s experience is matched by high school athletes nationwide who learn the realities about staying in the game at college. Athletic educational speaker Jack Renkens will discuss making it to the next level at Montgomery High School on Wednesday.
“I’m primarily trying to get families to be realistic about the opportunities that are available and to get them to understand it’s about getting your education, not about hitting the ball, kicking the ball, throwing the ball. It’s about finding the right match academically,” Renkens said.
Making his first appearance in the Empire in five years, the well-known motivational speaker will provide a reality check about athletic recruiting for student athletes and parents.
A former college athletics director, Renkens also had a daughter play NCAA basketball. Renkens has toured the United States for 16 years speaking about the realities for high school athletes seeking to play at college.
Among the topics Renkens will discuss: The school picks you; athletes must market themselves; find funding beyond the athletic scholarship.
A particular message is prep athletes can continue in college at a variety of competitive levels. The key is finding the right school and financial aid.
“Would you go to this school if you didn’t play sports? That is a big issue,” Renkens said.
To begin that discussion, Beal and her parents identified colleges where coaches showed interest and she could realistically play soccer. The schools needed to offer biology and sports medicine programs, and feature comfortable campuses.
The family made a handful of trips to visit a dozen colleges.
“It was a lot of traveling. But I enjoyed seeing all the opportunities. I could see what I wanted and what I didn’t want,” Beal said.
Narrowing her choices to a short list was based on programs offering partial scholarships for soccer. Beal first needed to show serious interest in a school before coaches would discuss such financial assistance, she said.
“Most of the coaches do stress the school,” she said. “They don’t want someone who is just going for the sport. They want someone who will be successful and be there all four years.”
A little good fortune helped Beal make her decision.
On a trip to a family wedding in Colorado she exchanged emails with the Northern Colorado coach, Tim Barrera. Beal was invited to a player identification camp on the campus in Greeley that same weekend. She bought some gear and played well enough to earn a closer look.
A campus tour the next day convinced Beal this was the school for her.
“I didn’t really expect that much. It was great,” she said.
The soccer scholarship amounts to about 10 percent of total costs for a year of about $24,000 for tuition, fees, room, meals and books. Beal also will receive financial assistance based on strong high school grades — she has an A-plus grade point average — and other academic scholarships.
That she could consider even playing soccer at a four-year college was the result of determined effort the past two years.
Not until her junior season at Montgomery did Beal set a goal to play soccer in college. She joined the Santa Rosa United club to help improve her skills and fitness.
“Just getting the chance to play at a high level I improved a lot,” Beal said. “I was in really good shape going into this season.”
Enough college coaches took notice, primarily at club tournaments and player identification camps.
Then came the effort to match her hopes with a college and soccer program that wanted her.
“I never stopped looking at soccer schools,” Beal said. “It was kind of scary that you have to face the future and kind of figure it out. I was very happy with how it all worked out.”
You can reach Staff Writer Michael Coit at 521-5470 or email@example.com.
High school athletes who can play at the four year college level should seek the best fit in a school and financial aid. The following are recommendations from athletic educational speaker Jack Renkens:
You don’t get to pick the school. They pick you.
A college coach can’t recruit you if he/she doesn’t know who you are. Student-athletes need to market themselves.
Don’t get hung up on the words “athletic scholarship.” Focus on funding comprised of academic money, merit money, grants, endowment and achievement money.
IF YOU GO
Where: Renkens will be speaking at Montgomery High School this week
When: Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.
Notable: Free admission. For more information, call 322-9557