For athletes, scholarships are within reach
Living overseas — far away from the eyes of college coaches and scouts — can be a disadvantage for Department of Defense Dependents Schools athletes longing for scholarship money.
But it also can play to their advantage if they work the system properly, say students and coaches in the Pacific.
“Coaches and scouts can’t see us. But if you’re a DODDS student, you have a diverse background” compared to stateside students who’ve lived in the same place all their lives, Osan American senior Michael Gilliam said.
“A lot of colleges look for that,” said Gilliam, who landed a financial grant-in-aid package to play football next year for NCAA Division III Occidental College in California. “Living in Korea all my life and being a DODEA kid, those were advantages for me.”
The two-time Far East Wrestling Tournament gold medalist and Cougars football star will receive $23,600 annually to help offset the $54,000 yearly price tag.
The Tigers, of the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, were 7-2 in 2009.
Gilliam said Occidental also is a good fit because it offers his intended major — kinesiology.
Where ROTC scholarships are commonplace for DODDS students overseas, those receiving athletic grants are minimal.
A quick survey of the Pacific shows just four — two each from Daegu American and Osan, including Gilliam. Joining him are:
n Osan American’s Nicole Sparks, who will play volleyball for Division II Georgian Court University. Her $25,000 annual grant covers 83 percent of the $30,000 cost. The Lions went 26-10 overall and 18-0 in the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference last season.
n  Daegu American’s Khiry Loyd, ticketed to play basketball at Division III Lakeland College in Sheboygan, Wis. He declined to disclose his scholarship amount. The Muskies were 12-14 overall and 8-8 in the Northern Athletic Conference.
n Loyd’s teammate Chris Swain heads to Pittsburgh and Point Park University, a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics institution. He also declined to disclose his scholarship amount. The Pioneers, of the American Mideast Conference, were 9-16 overall (5-11 in conference).
One other prospect, Seoul American’s Thomas Kim, the reigning Far East cross-country champion, is being recruited by 12 Division III schools, according to Seoul American assistant coach Kevin Madden.
How do you pick up scholarship money?
“You talk to as many coaches as possible,” said Sparks, who promoted herself on recruiting websites, sent video and visited several schools during breaks over the past few years. “You have to be involved and you have to be seen.”
“You have to be noticed,” Gilliam agreed. “That’s the first thing.” In addition to using websites, he attended a Nike combine in Dallas last summer and was selected for a Nike camp at Texas Christian University.
DODDS coaches and administrators try to sell the idea that it doesn’t hurt to think about smaller schools, where playing time can be more plentiful.
“We spend a lot of time selling Division III because we feel they have a realistic shot there,” said Loyd’s father, Daegu coach Phillip Loyd.
Loyd said once he knows what schools an athlete is interested in, he does some research and sends out letters to the prospective programs.
“If a coach expresses interest, we send him film,” Loyd said.
It also helps to know the people at a school of interest. Sparks traveled to New Jersey after her sophomore year and spent time at Lions’ coach Francisco Casado’s camp.
“He said if I was interested in him, he was interested in me,” she said.
The bottom line, students and coaches say, is that the more student-athletes search, the better their prospects.
“It can be done,” Gilliam said.