For many high school athletes, sports are an avenue for learning valuable life lessons that will stay with them for the rest of their lives, while making memories with their peers along the way that they’ll never forget.
For some, however, sports can provide a pathway to furthering their education — perhaps, a pathway that might not be available to them otherwise. However, those opportunities are few and far between, making it all the more impressive when a school of any size bestows a scholarship opportunity upon a young student-athlete.
On Wednesday, the Deseret News posted its list of all of the just-graduated senior student-athletes from across Utah who have signed national Letters-of-Intent to play sports at the collegiate level. There are 700 members of the Class of 2019 who are set to continue their athletic careers — a list that includes Grantsville’s Koby Johnson, Maizie Clark and Addison Smith; Stansbury’s Samie Bryant, Jet Richins, Alyssa Hackbarth, Aubree Cheney, Mackenna Sargent, Mia Thurber and Austin Woodhouse; and Tooele’s Dalton Harris, Payton Shields, Jaxson Miner, Bridger Holmes and Nate Putnam.
However, that list becomes even more impressive when you consider there are more than 66,000 student-athletes who compete in high school sports in Utah. A little more than a quarter of those are seniors — roughly 18,000. So, 700 of 18,000 senior athletes statewide earned scholarships — either athletic or academic — or 3.9 percent.
That’s how rare an accomplishment this is. That’s why it’s such a big deal, whether it’s someone signing at a Division I university or a community college. These opportunities are rare.
It’s also why people need to keep their own expectations in check. In 20 years of being around high school sports, whether as a participant or as a member of the media, I’ve heard it time and time again when parents or members of the community that certain coaches aren’t sending enough players off to play in college. In some small communities, those kinds of off-field complaints can even cost a coach their job, regardless of on-field success.
But the truth of the matter is, there just aren’t very many college-level athletes out there — or, at least, not as many opportunities. Roster spots and scholarships are really, really difficult to get. When you consider how many kids play sports just in Tooele County, it’s actually pretty impressive how many future college athletes come out of this area.
Just remember that the next time you hear someone yell “you’re costing my kid a scholarship” at a high-school coach. Sure, by not giving a kid playing time, they might not be giving that kid the kind of exposure they might need for college coaches to take notice. That’s a fair criticism. But ultimately, a college scholarship is something the average high school athlete only has a 4 percent shot at anyway.
And that’s why we should celebrate those who actually do achieve that dream.
Darren Vaughan is a veteran sports writer from Moab, Utah. High school sports got him a scholarship, too — as the equipment manager for the Southern Utah University football team. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.