Seniors and juniors consider athletic programs before applying

Callie Hawkins

Every student has a plan for a path they will follow after high school, but every plan is different, and many consider sports as a part of their path. The world of college sports has only grown over the years and has become a deciding factor to where some students choose to apply to, whether they are choosing to play a sport in college or just want it to be part of the whole college experience.
“I think that watching sports and being around sports are definitely part of the college experience,” junior Hood Mathes said. “They have so much excitement and energy surrounding them, so I want that atmosphere to be a part of my college experience.”
However, there are many different qualities that could be used to define a good college sports program. Although most schools offer some kind of athletics, schools that are considered “sports schools” are widely viewed as schools that emphasize their athletic teams and events, and have great athletic achievements. For example, University of North Carolina, while being extremely high ranked academically, is also sports oriented and is regarded often as a sports school due to its competitive athletics in many different areas. It is a Division I school for basketball, football, cross country, mens and womens lacrosse, field hockey, golf and soccer.
“[A college’s sports program] is often a pretty big factor in the decision-making process, especially for students looking at state schools,” Associate Director of College Guidance Elizabeth Clark said. “We get students who are looking for a particular sport, typically football, who just want to make sure that it is a part of their experience. A lot of kids care that the school at least has a competitive program in football, basketball, lacrosse and other big sports.”
UNC can act as an example for what students look for in a sports program and is a state school. University of Georgia is similar in these ways, as it is also a state school with an emphasis on sports, especially considering their recent victory of the NCAA football national championship. Recently, senior Mary Frances McGaughy decided she will attend UGA in the fall.
“I have always wanted to go to Georgia, so there are a lot of different reasons, but the sports definitely played a big role [in my decision],” McGaughy said.
Although state schools are commonly viewed as the “sports schools”, private and smaller public schools with sports still continue to make Division I appearances in select sports and have school spirit, but just to a lower degree. Even without being regarded as a “sports school,” many colleges still have the sense of community created through athletics.
“I think that [sports] can be [a part of the college experience], but I think smaller schools have a very different sense of community, being a smaller community,” junior Olivia DeYoung said. “I have visited smaller schools such as Davidson College, and though they are a very small school, they have Division I sports and 25 percent of their students are student athletes. So even though they are not the first sports school that comes to mind when looking for a fun sports school, it is certainly a foundation for their community.”
Some might think that going to a school rallied around the athletic teams and mascot is all part of the college experience, while others see through a different lens that they are going to college to set them up for a brighter future and look for aspects of a school more important than its sports program.
“I think that participating in a lively college sports environment could definitely be an exciting experience, but I think schools that are not centered around sports have other things to offer,” DeYoung said. “I can definitely see the positives and fun that could come with going to a big sports school, but I don’t think it will affect my decision when choosing a school.”
Based on a Feb. 7 poll of 145 high school students and faculty, 37 percent agree with DeYoung, that their decisions on where to apply and eventually attend college will not be or would have not been affected by the college’s sports program.
But, there are countless aspects of a college one must look into in order to choose the right place for them to live, thrive and learn for most likely four years of their lives. For many though, like Mathes, who have grown up playing and paying attention to sports, one of those must-have aspects of college is the sports environment of a school.
“I also look for what the town or city around the college is like, if there are good places to eat and hang out, and I also want to make sure it’s not in an area that’s super cold all the time, so climate plays a role too,” Mathes said. “But, going to a college with teams that succeed on big stages can make the experience so much better, so that definitely plays a role in deciding where I will want to go.”
Based on the fact that ESD has a wide variety of sports and requires students to participate in them with six credits by graduation, many students have the interest of participating and being a part of sports environments at college.
“Overall here at our school, it is definitely a large percentage of students who look into that factor,” Clark said. “Regardless of whether they play a sport themselves or not, they are interested in going to a school where they can rally around a team.”
Having a good sports team provides a sense of community and a common excitement. Although smaller and less sports oriented schools can provide that same sense of community in different ways, sports communities have a unique spirit and that spirit is what provides the incentive for many students to want to attend a sports school.
“I wanted to go to a big school with a big football team and be able to have those game days and everything,” McGaughy said “[The sports] really create a sense of community because everyone is really rooting together for the same team. It will definitely be fun, and I am super excited to see what happens for the [Georgia] teams next year.”

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