You may have noticed recently that Tehachapi High School has been celebrating their student-athletes signing National Letters of Intent to continue their playing and academic careers at the collegiate level. Many of those signings this year have been to NCAA Division II organizations, and in one case an NAIA school.
Each of these signings deserves to be celebrated. Each student-athlete and their family made a decision based on what was best for their situation. It pleases me even more when I speak to parents who see the value in an offer at the Division II level, or in any offer outside of NCAA Division I. I pointed out long ago that there are so many different options for student-athletes these days, and with the advent of the internet, live video streaming and the vast information sharing we now have at our fingertips, being “discovered” by these programs is much easier than ever before.
I’ve worked with NAIA (National Intercollegiate Athletic Association) as well as NCAA Division II and NCAA Division I institutions. Each has a certain value and something unique to offer student athletes. But in the end it comes down to what fits the student-athlete best. I’ve been very pleased to see two of our best athletes in girl’s basketball and football select Division II schools over the last few months. They both echoed the fact that the academic, financial and competition opportunities were the right fit. Given the limited number of athletes who make it to the professional ranks, and the even-more limited professional opportunities for female student-athletes, the exposure a Division I school offers might not be advantageous anyway.
Tehachapi student-athletes are perfectly suited for the Division II lifestyle; it’s a major step up in competition, it’s a new experience and it is a nice balance between athletic and academic life. My first three years working with Cal State Bakersfield were their final three in the Division II ranks and I really enjoyed the format of the championships, the places we traveled to and the atmosphere and talent at that level. Many former Division I athletes would finish their careers in Division II, making the rosters unique and sometimes every bit as good as the upper level, hence the reason in many sports you don’t see Division I schools competing against Division II teams; the talent difference is sometimes very little.
The NAIA is a completely different animal as well, with very small schools, usually linked to a religious organization, that are competing in the oldest governing body in college athletics. Scholarships are limited but playing opportunities are available and talent comes in many forms. I hope the rest of the community is excited to see our student-athletes take these opportunities and run with them.
As recruiting continues into the next season, the reminder to parents and student-athletes is this: Don’t sell yourself short, don’t view any opportunity, offer or chance as “below you.” Don’t let what you think you’re worth impact your market value; the fact of the matter remains you come from Tehachapi, and while that commands respect in Kern County, many college coaches are still ignorant of the value that will bring to their program. Prove them wrong.
Division I scholarships are great, but so is everything else that trickles down and gives local student-athletes a chance to continue competing, get an education and expand their world view with the college experience. No matter the conference patch on the uniform, they all have four years to prove they can make it at the next level. Whatever level that happens to be should make us all proud of where they come from, and hopefully, where they go beyond competition.
Corey Costelloe has covered NCAA, professional and local sports for more than 20 years as a reporter and broadcaster. A THS graduate, he now resides in Tehachapi. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed are his own.