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Athletic Recruiting at Belmont Hill: An Inside Look

In Issue 5 of Volume 66, The Panel executive board examined the culture of the “college process” on both the Belmont Hill and Winsor campus. This article is the fifth in a five-part series on the topic. All five articles in the series can be found here.


Introduction

Of the seniors who responded to the survey, exactly a third confirmed that athletic recruiting had played a role in their college process. Although not all Class of 2018 recruits have necessarily committed—at time of publication, that number is 23, representing slightly more than 25% of the form—the significant role that athletics play in School culture clearly prompts a similar place for sports within the college conversation. In fact, much college-related discussion among boys in Forms I-IV revolves around recruited Upper Schoolers and their college commitments. Especially for student-athletes that commit to play more publicized college sports like football, basketball, and hockey at a Division 1 program, there’s a burst of community excitement that originates with sixth formers and ripples through the student body, eventually reaching first formers. I remember Dewey Jarvis’s (‘13) commitment to Brown football piquing the interest of Class of 2018 First Formers, while David Mitchell’s (‘18) commitment to Brown basketball last summer and Jake Bobo’s (‘18) commitment to Duke football last February resulted in a similar buzz among the current corps of middle schoolers.

 

The Process Begins

Commitments from student-athletes like Mitchell and Bobo, as well as the pride, relief, and congratulatory wishes that follow, represent the end of a long process that for some consumes most of their Belmont Hill careers. Anthony Marinello ‘18, who will play lacrosse at Middlebury next year, “started going to tournaments the summer before 8th grade. The first one I went to—UMBC in Maryland—every single D1 coach was there, and a few D3.” Marinello didn’t start at Belmont Hill until Form II, and long before Coach Sullivan, Mrs. Bobo, or Mr. Coppedge assisted with his process, his club program (the Top Gun Fighting Clams), secured him exposure to college coaches and programs at showcases, summer camps, and scouting days. Danny Hincks ‘18, committed to Dartmouth lacrosse, compared his Clams coach to “an agent…he is constantly on the phone with college coaches and seems to be always working to get his players into the best college fit for them. Basically, he got my name on the radar for certain colleges which I liked, and it was then up to me to play well when they were watching me.”

David Mitchell ‘18 (Brown basketball) and Jovan Jones ‘18 (Williams basketball) communicated similar information around the role their AAU program and coach, Vin Pastore of Mass Rivals, played in the recruiting process. “Before Mass Rivals,” Jovan explained, “I felt like I wasn’t known in the basketball world. As soon as I joined the team, even though I didn’t get that much better, the brand got my name out so much more.” The program’s 9,000+ Twitter followers include coaches from nearly every D1 program in the nation, and coaching staffs take note of the positive news Pastore shares about his players.

The role of well-established club teams and coaches extends beyond opportunities for showcasing talents at events like scouting days. “My coach is really respected in USA diving, and colleges trusted what she said about me,” related Ben Bramley ‘18, committed to dive at Purdue. Like Bramley’s coach, Vin Pastore at Mass Rivals has developed personal connections with many of basketball’s most famous programs. “I remember we went to Dunkin’ Donuts in Dallas [after a tournament],” Mitchell said laughing. “Coach Calipari [of Kentucky] suddenly pulled up, and Vin just goes outside and says, ‘Fam, what’s up my man.’ They had coffee and talked.” For Jones, Mitchell, and many of their Rivals teammates, that anecdote encapsulates much of their motivation for joining the Mass Rivals. The program’s prominent alumni—former lottery pick Noah Vonleh, Notre Dame’s Zach Auguste, Kentucky’s Wenyen Gabriel, and UConn’s Jalen Adams—and the relationship the program shares with such college programs  — proved “Coach Vin had a track record of getting kids into schools and putting them into the right situations,” according to Mitchell.

David Mitchell ’18 will attend Brown University next year.

Belmont Hill’s Guidance

After cementing their recruiting foundation with major assistance from their outside clubs, student-athletes often utilize more Belmont Hill guidance during their junior and senior years once they narrow their list to a few schools. Belmont Hill coaches advocate for students over the phone; Marinello said, “Coach Sullivan has connections with lots of the NESCAC programs I was looking at, especially with Middlebury.” Once Jovan chose to pursue NESCAC schools as opposed to accepting one of his D1 offers, Coach Murphy reached out to several Division 3 schools to gauge their interest. Mrs. Bobo and Mr. Coppedge, according to Quin McGaugh (Middlebury Track and XC), often called schools to see where he stood in their recruiting class, communicating with the admissions office while he and Coach Harder coordinated with coaching staffs.

For other Belmont Hill student-athletes whose sports lack a dominant club presence, Belmont Hill varsity coaches were the only ones who handled recruiting. “All my recruiting went through Belmont Hill—Coaches Leo, Bradley, and Davis.” said Phil Conigliaro ‘18, committed to wrestle at Harvard. Like Conigliaro, Sam Rohrer ‘18, excited to play baseball at Williams next year, said Coach Grant and Varsity Baseball assistant Pete Feeley helped his process most by “putting me on the field and having a lot of coaches come to see our games.”  Having played at Amherst himself and served as a recruiting coordinator for Northeastern, Coach Grant has “formed really good relationships with schools he knows Belmont Hill kids will want to go to.”

For all Belmont Hill student-athletes who are recruited by college coaches, the college counseling office supports the students by coordinating with coaches and college admissions personnel to be sure that the student’s academic recruitability matches their athletic recruitability.

Demonstrating Interest and Assessing Fit

Although club programs, Belmont Hill coaches, and Belmont Hill college counselors provide significant assistance throughout the recruiting process, student-athletes often take on the bulk of burdensome work themselves. Especially in smaller sports or at the D3 level, it can be quite draining to reach out individually to a wide variety of schools and programs, while simultaneously advocating for yourself (not to mention, completing homework and going to practices). “Unless you’re the top 1% of all recruits, nobody’s bowing down for you,” said Marinello. Even as a D1 commit, Conigliaro remarked, “it was a lot to

Philip Conigliaro ’18, captain of the Varsity Wrestling team, will attend Harvard.

deal with. Sometimes I would get two or three-hour phone calls a night from coaches that I had to answer, even though I should have been doing homework…It was fine at first, but after months of this, I would dread when my phone rang and had the name of a college coach on it.” Runner Quin McGaugh remembered he “started sending emails to a ton of coaches the fall of my junior year just expressing some interest.” He found it frustrating to repeatedly reach out to schools who he believed were disregarding his communication when they learned he was “just a small school kid” and ran in the Independent School League—typically a strong marketing point for athletes, especially for sports like lacrosse and hockey, but not when leagues with larger populations claim faster average cross country times and more exposure to inter-league competition and large invitationals. Seth Israel ‘18, an uncommitted wrestler who started the process later than most of his peers, “really had to prove to the coaches that I was excited about their program and could be an asset to the team, which was tough at times.”

Since Belmont Hill student-athletes often market themselves to schools as opposed to enjoying the reverse relationship, news coverage on investigations into bribery, under-the-table dealings, and NCAA rule infractions are essentially absent from the process. “They’re not offering me a Mercedes,” joked Sam Rohrer. One BH recruit anonymously reported being illegally purchased a sweatshirt, virtually nothing in the face of the $100,000 payments Louisville basketball funnelled to recruit Brian Bowen earlier this year. On the other hand, a different anonymous recruit shared that his teammate from outside of Belmont Hill was offered an immediate $10,000 in cash by a tournament organizer to commit to a certain school: “He [his friend] went over and looked and said it was real, but I didn’t believe him, so when the guy said to come look, I peered into the backpack, and there were just stacks of 100s. I was shocked. I think it happens more than the news lets on in [anonymous sport].”

After demonstrating interest in programs and schools and receiving news about where they stand in a recruiting class, almost all Belmont Hill student-athletes assess “fit” in the same way their non-recruit classmates do. Rower Andrew Berg ‘18, attending Princeton next year, said that he loved “the structure of the classes” and Princeton’s activities period, in addition to “the team and coaching style.” Marinello explained that “once I had an idea of where I could play, I did a normal college search from there. It was back to reality. I found an area that I liked and a school that I liked.” McGaugh went so far as to say that his Middlebury choice was “not a cross country decision. I just really thought the school was a great personal fit.” Jovan shared advice from his mother that captures the mentality many BH athletes have when they decide to pursue playing college athletics:

“I knew I wanted to use basketball as a tool to receive the best education possible—that’s what my mom always wanted for me.”

While most Belmont Hill commits consider much more than their sport when making a decision, Ben Bramley ‘18 may be the one exception. After finishing sixth at Olympic Trials before Rio in 2016, Bramley obtained impressive options for college diving, and many classmates criticized his decision to attend Purdue over Stanford. For Ben, his college choice was “very much a diving decision…If I didn’t think I was being given the best opportunity to become the best diver—through coaches, facilities, and the team—I wouldn’t be happy at the college.”

After the Commitment

After such a lengthy process, many Belmont Hill athletes simply feel relieved after they finally commit to a school. Commits continue to remain in contact with their future coach, usually texting or talking on the phone—about Belmont Hill classes, senior year, family, other sports an athlete might be playing, or updates on the college team—anywhere from between twice a week to once a month. Committing also requires cutting off communication with other college coaches: some welcomed the chance to disconnect with coaches who had criticized their ultimate decision, while others, like David Mitchell, expressed appreciation for those who had recruited him. Referring to Harvard basketball’s Tommy Amaker and the communication they had shared, Mitchell said Amaker “could see that I could be a strong, young man, and it was special to see he wasn’t only talking to me about basketball.”

Even after committing, most Belmont Hill athletes hesitate to wear apparel from their future school. Sam Rohrer explained, “If you wear it now, you’re going to get a few chirps for it—that’s just how it is—but if you’re proud about it—and I am—I think you’ll wear it eventually.” All other commits shared Sam’s sentiment. Hincks shared that most comments he receives for wearing Dartmouth gear falls along the lines of “weird brag,” “let us know,” or “seek it, chieftain.” Berg and McGaugh interpret chirps as “typical BH behavior,” boys’ school language that masks congratulatory intentions and pride for classmates. Others aren’t so sure. One athlete anonymously shared that he thinks comments about apparel reflect jealousy: “The average Belmont Hill student believes that because I am a recruited athlete, I did not have to work as hard as my peers to get into a school like [anonymous school]. However, I think if you combine all the time me and all other student-athletes alike have put into their sports and their academics, it equals out or even outweighs the time put in by many kids who believe student athletes have an easy path to college.” Though Anthony Marinello thinks sarcastic comments reflect good intentions, he agrees that not everyone acknowledges the full length of the recruiting process: “Any time someone says, ‘Oh, you’re so lucky you’re done with this,’ I think, I did my grinding already. I’ve had to deal with this for 5 years.”

 

 

Conclusion

Sports have always been part of Belmont Hill’s college conversation. The Class of 2018’s 23 commits represent a return to the average percentage of Belmont Hill graduates who play a sport in college: commits among 2017 graduates numbered 17, representing a slight uptick from the 15 in 2016, while 29 and 32 boys committed in the Class of 2015 and 2014, respectively. Historically, the Belmont Hill average has stabilized at about 25% (a figure that matches the ISL’s league-wide average), and analyzing the recruiting process for many Belmont Hill students reveals a more nuanced aspect of the school’s college culture.

Like students who do not pursue college athletics, BH’s recruited athletes learn and stumble on the fly, receiving assistance from parents, outside clubs, Belmont Hill coaches, and college counselors. They emerge from the process excited to play a sport they love at the next level, appreciative of the path that led them there, and with new knowledge about themselves.

Editor’s Note

Although committed Belmont Hill student-athletes represent only 25% of the average graduating class, our substantive coverage on the athletic recruiting process reflects Belmont Hill’s majority athletic culture. Community interest in the experience of a recruited Belmont Hill athlete speaks to the broader institutional role that sports play at Belmont Hill, and required athletic participation for boys in all forms drives this correlation. Broad student investment in The Loop and widespread student support for Belmont Hill athletics similarly invests students in the future college careers of their recruited classmates and friends.

Though athletics define the majority culture, it’s important to acknowledge that the other 75% of an average graduating class receive much more comprehensive college counseling programming. Non-recruits progress through the college experience with individualized guidance and a structured roadmap that encourages choice, allowing students to take ownership of their process. See our timeline and “The Counselor Perspective” for more.

William McCormack

Panel Staff;
Brookline, MA;
Class of 2018;

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