Graduation 2007: Few DODDS-Pacific athletes earn sports university scholarships, yet Kadena senior accomplished just that
June 6, 2007
KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — The 2007 cadre of DODDS-Pacific students who’ve earned collegiate athletic scholarships now readies itself for the challenge of university life in September.
All one of ’em.
That’s far below even the meager DODDS-Pacific numbers, ranging from five to 10 per school year, who usually gain such honors, mostly from smaller schools and mainly on partial rides. Even fewer are the student-athletes who gain entrance and enjoy scholarship bennies at a major Division I program.
At press time, Stars and Stripes learned that only Kadena senior guard Zori Drew found herself so fortunate this year, signing a letter of intent to play at Division II Brigham Young University-Hawaii.
Others who’ve signed letters of intent but won’t get any financial aid — yet — are Kadena seniors Alex Mierzejewski (soccer, BYU-Hawaii) and Jennifer Abel (soccer, Division II West Florida). Zama American senior Cristina Eustaquio is weighing a softball offer from Division III University of Dallas.
So why aren’t more scholarships rolling in? The main culprits are lack of exposure and recognition.
“You’re certainly not at an advantage over here, compared to the athletes in the States,” said Don Hobbs, DODDS-Pacific’s Far East Activities Council chairman.
That’s a difficult thing to overcome, when stateside coaches can jump into a car and drive a couple of hours to see 15 potential scholarship athletes on two teams. Flying 14 hours to Japan or South Korea to view slim pickings is a dicey proposition at best.
“You can’t expect a coach to offer you anything sight unseen except on video,” said Abel’s father, David. His older daughter, Dianne, was one of six full or partial sports scholarship earners last season.
Compare those numbers to Reserve Officer Training Corps scholarship winners and service academy appointments. According to longtime Seoul American athletics director Donald Hedgpath, Seoul American alone saw 75 students earn such riches this school year.
“There is the relationship” between students and their military surroundings, said Hedgpath, who also heads Seoul American’s JROTC program. “They show a patriotic side, they’re in the environment, they want to follow in their parents’ footsteps. But it’s still a hard sell” with the global war on terror, he said.
However slim those opportunities, that doesn’t mean the door is permanently slammed in the face of DODDS athletes seeking scholarship riches.
As an early teen, Shaquille O’Neal of the NBA’s Miami Heat attended DODDS schools in Germany and earned a scholarship to Louisiana State. Same story with former NFL quarterback Eric Zeier (Heidelberg, Germany, Class of 1990), who earned a full ride at the University of Georgia, as did Kevin Maxwell (Zama American, Japan, Class of 1987).
Tampa Bay Buccaneers backup linebacker Wesly Mallard played for Seoul American in the mid-1990s, walked on and later earned a full ride at the University of Oregon and led the Ducks to the Fiesta Bowl in 2001.
Michael Haynes graduated from Balboa High in Panama in 1999, played defensive end at Penn State, was drafted by the Chicago Bears in 2003 and now is a New Orleans Saints backup.
Still, compared to ROTC scholarship winners, few are the numbers of DODDS-Pacific university scholar athletes. The six who made that cut a year ago include:
n Zach Dopslaf, senior, Yokota, parlayed an unbeaten wrestling season into a financial aid grant to Pratt Community College in Kansas.
n Kadena soccer star Nathan LaGrave got a partial ride to Bucknell, where he earned Patriot League Rookie of the Year honors. Class AA tournament MVPs Dianne Abel (Winthrop) and Aaron Zendejas (Northern Illinois) each also earned partial scholarships.
n Two All-Far East basketball guards also earned partial financial aid grants. Tamara “Tank” Hancock of Taegu American went onto Division II Central Arizona, while Travis Ekmark of Nile C. Kinnick is playing for Division III Dallas.
Drew’s package will pay for all of her tuition and fees, while the family, Lt. Col. Maria Drew of Fort Buckner and her husband, Derrick, must pick up books and incidentals, they said. They traveled to Hawaii in December, where Drew found no positions available at Division I Hawaii but an open door at BYU-Hawaii.
“It doesn’t hurt to think small,” Zori Drew said. “Division I is hard. Division II, there are a lot of opportunities. It was more a family matter. I’m trying to help out my family so they can pay the tuition” for younger brother Zulimon and sister Zoe.
Putting together a solid résumé and videotape package helps, along with attending summer camps to increase visibility, Hobbs and Hedgpath said. Thinking small in terms of school destination doesn’t hurt, either.
“You apply to the right kind of school, a place where they can show their skills,” Hedgpath said. “Our kids can compete in Division II or III. But some of our kids have their sights set higher than that. It’s unusual for somebody to go Division I.”
Student and parents must become shameless marketers on their child’s behalf, Hedgpath said.
“You have to sell kids. We have talent, academically strong and sports-minded (but) we don’t market very well,” he said.
“Coaches and parents have to be innovative in selling their sons’ or daughters’ athletic abilities to a school,” said Hobbs. “Go back to camps, be creative in sending videotape, then sit back and hope.”
“It is possible,” Zori Drew said. “Don’t give up, don’t get discouraged. There’s always somewhere you can play.”