Scholarships 'a blessing' for student-athletes

Location, size, academic programs and the opportunities to grow in faith are important considerations when students apply to Catholic colleges and universities.

Many also look at the athletic programs not just because they want to continue competing in the sports they did in high school; they’re seeking athletic scholarships that can have a major influence on where they enroll.

Athletic scholarships are a win-win for everyone. Students need financial assistance and colleges are looking for talented athletes.

St. Peter’s University

“If a university has a good sports program, that helps with enrollment and the overall student experience,” said Katherine Arcuri, senior woman’s administrator and associate athletic director at St. Peter’s University in Jersey City, New Jersey.

Sports generate support from alumni, engage the outside community and bring together the student population. So recruiting is serious business.

Kevin Soriano of New Milford, New Jersey, a senior pitcher at St. Peter’s, was recruited for the baseball team when his high school coach invited the university’s pitching coach and an assistant to watch play.

“I had offers to go to a couple of schools, and it was a huge decision,” Soriano said. “St. Peter’s is close to home, and there were a lot of things that I liked here, especially the sports program itself. The scholarship was the biggest draw. My mother is the only one to contribute to my financial situation, and if it had not been for the athletic scholarship, the academic scholarship and financial aid, I probably would not have been able to attend a four-year college in four years. The scholarship allowed me to do that.”

Soriano, 21, is set to graduate in May with majors in health and pre-physical therapy.

St. Leo University

Coaches at St. Leo University in St. Leo, Florida, recruit at various camps, through networking, alumni recommendations and high school students contacting them directly.

The coaches look not only for good athletes and scholars but also students who will live up to the university’s Benedictine core values.

“We recruit by the rules, and we expect athletes to play within the rules,” said Fran Reidy, director of athletics.

Freshman Amanda James, 18, of St. Charles, Illinois, was offered scholarships to play softball at several colleges.

“I was recruited by Coach Pat Affrunti from St. Leo all four years of high school, and I met Coach Erin Kinberger in my junior year,” said James, a sport business major. “The athletic scholarship from St. Leo definitely made my decision to come here easier, but I ultimately knew this was the right fit for me academically and athletically. Being an athlete on a Catholic campus has helped me to not lose focus on the values of my faith. Saying prayers with my team before a game makes me feel more connected to them and to God. Being able to do the sport that I love at the college level and with the people I love supporting me is truly a gift from God.”

Our Lady of the Lake University

Coaches at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio recruit players from high schools and four- or two-year colleges.

“We use a combination of recruiting,” said Jack Hank, athletic director and vice president of student life. “Our coaches work off referrals and going to tournaments, and student-athletes send emails to coaches showing what they can do and what they can offer to a team. We recruit on our website, too.”

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Patton

Many students have that dream of getting an athletic scholarship, so the offer may cinch the deal for where a student enrolls.

“It comes down to matching the financial need of the student with the package that appeals to them and to their parents,” Hank said.

Senior Darius Patton, 21, a computer information systems and security major, was attending a junior college and wanted to transfer to a Catholic school. (He’ll be received into the Church this Easter).

“My baseball coach at the junior college reached out to a coach at Our Lady of the Lake,” said Patton, a senior outfielder. “I received a call from him, came to visit, and that was it. The athletic scholarship was vital. It made it possible for me to continue my education at a private university.”

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Doege

Taylor Doege, 21, a junior from San Antonio, is majoring in education. She played several sports in high school, then focused on softball, the sport she thought would give her the best chance at getting an athletic scholarship.

“It’s a blessing and really helps out financially,” she said. “It also motivates you to excel in the classroom and in the field. Don’t think that because they gave you money for the next four years that you can blow off classes or performance. It can be taken away, and I see that as a motivation to do well.”

Mercyhurst University

One-fourth of the 2,500 students at Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pennsylvania, are on one of its 24 varsity teams.

“Athletics is a big part of this institution, and it’s something that’s very important to us,” said Christian Beyer, director of undergraduate admissions. “We want to make sure that there’s a good balance of both academics and athletics.”

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Kenny

His department works closely with coaches to find the right fit for student-athletes who are eligible for athletic as well as academic scholarships.

The scholarships and also the potential support from staff and peers attracted Mercyhurst senior Lauren Kenny, 21, of Erie, who is majoring in intelligence studies and political science. She’s been playing volleyball since fifth grade.

“I was considering a couple of schools, and Mercyhurst wasn’t even on my radar,” she said.

A coach approached her at a tournament, she filled out a recruitment questionnaire and liked their offer. She also liked coaches Ryan Patton and his wife, Jenell, who also works in campus ministry.

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“I knew I would be supported,” Kenny said. “Jenell encourages all the athletes to engage in faith-based activities. A Catholic devotions group meets on Tuesdays, and the team is really big on service. The values that have been instilled in me — hospitality, service and mercy — have been really important in my college journey. I would have attended Mercyhurst even without the scholarship.”

Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania.

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