By Paul Ce
When Division I schools come knocking at your door for you to come play at their school, they can typically flex all the money their schools have.
Take for example Kentucky University. When Kentucky recruits, they can show off their world class facilities. They can flaunt their multiple national championship banners on the wall. They can offer national TV exposure. They can introduce you to famous alumni like Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins. They can promise to get you drafted into the NBA. They can offer you a full-ride scholarship with free room and board, free food and even stipends. So, without all these resources, how do schools like Grand Rapids Community College recruit?
Typically, they find recruits the same way: by scouting them at their high school games, meeting with them and convincing them to come to their school. The difference is that at GRCC, coaches must do all the work since there are no scouts and must follow leads on recruits themselves. One way they get these leads is through the GRCC website where coaches or the athlete themselves can fill out a questionnaire that is sent to the corresponding coach of the sport that they are interested in..
Another difference, women’s basketball head coach Dave Glazier explained, is that, “We tend to sign kids a little later, reason being that these recruits originally were recruited to go to four-year colleges, but couldn’t due to financial restrictions or other obstacles.”
Glazier added, “(This is) a nice, low-cost opportunity and it could vault them to another four-year or the same one they were originally looking at.”
That’s not to say that GRCC is always the second option to these four year schools.
“We’ve have kids who ultimately want to be here from the get-go,” Glazier said, adding that other students come to GRCC because they want “to see if college athletics is really for them, because it’s like a job.”
As a result, GRCC is a sort of proving ground for these athletes. They can prove that they are good enough to play at the college level and find out if this is actually something they want to do.
Glazier said he noticed something different when recruiting female basketball players.
“Most guys if they’ve ever played, most of them think they can play at the next level and want to play at the next level,” Glazier said. “There are some real good players on the women’s side where they’re coming out of high school and they just don’t have the interest. It’s been a unique dynamic to get used to, but once they’re here and they lock in, it’s pretty enjoyable for them.”
While most guys who have played before do want to play at the next level, there is the stigma against playing community college athletics.
GRCC athletic director and former Raider football player, Bill Firn, is aware of the stigma some have against playing community college athletics and works through the unique obstacles that come with recruiting at GRCC.
“A misconception about community college athletics (is) that these athletes are just going out there to casually play,” Firn said. “No, we’re here to win a national championship. Everything we do is to get to that ultimate goal and it’s very competitive. Student athletes might not realize that because of the community college designation.”
Another challenge is that people don’t know that scholarships are available for students who would like to play.
“We’re allowed to offer tuition and fees,” Firn said. “We could offer (full scholarships), but we don’t have many resources, so a lot of times we break them up into partial scholarships.”
This is crucial information for most students because financial issues are a big part of why a lot of athletes choose to stop playing, but they often don’t know that there is an opportunity for them here at GRCC. In the 2018-2019 season alone, there are 110 athletes overall who are trying to capitalize on that opportunity and 89 of them have earned scholarships.
That opportunity has to be earned, however, because the resources are limited. The school funds $55,000 for scholarships for the athletic programs and another $23,000 come from annual gifts and endowed accounts. This means that there is only $78,000 to be split between eight sports.
To add to that difficulty, GRCC is one of the only schools that have a six-month waiting period until a student becomes in-district. This makes a big difference as tuition is cut in half if you live in-district. This can be frustrating because that can be the one factor from getting a recruit.
Another unique obstacle that comes with limited resources is the time management issue coaches have to do deal with when coaching at GRCC. Raider coaches have to be able to balance their own personal life, job, scouting recruits, watching film, practicing, planning road trips, and then the actual games. When asked on how he balances all this out, Glazier jokingly said, “I gotta a calendar (and) Excel sheets…You just gotta find a way to fit it all in.”
Cross County coach Matt Sicilia had an uncommon experience as a GRCC coach because he had to revive the program and build it from the ground up. This can be a meticulous process. For example, the first year of the cross country program, Sicilia explained that he wrote 150 letters, got two responses, and it turned out that both runners didn’t end up running for GRCC.
He didn’t get disheartened though as the cross country program entered its fifth year this past fall with a majority of the runners receiving scholarships. On the topic of trying to balance work and life, he has also found it difficult at times splitting time between being a physical education teacher and athletic director at Excel Charter Academy, coaching cross country, and having a wife and three kids. He stated that at times, “I’ve taken my kids with me on recruiting,” because sometimes he just has to make do.
Students who want to play college sports don’t have to sit and wait to be noticed by college recruiters. They can make the first move like sophomore basketball player, Mya Jordan.
“I actually reached out to (Glazier),” Jordan said. After that, Glazier came to two or three games to recruit her.
“I really didn’t know too much about the team, and I didn’t know too much about the coach,” Jordan said. “But it seemed like a good program because when I met him I really liked him… and the girls that were there before me took me around the campus. They treated me like I was a part of the team already and that’s really what convinced me.”
Freshman forward D’Avery Moore of the men’s basketball team also spoke highly of his athletic experience at GRCC.
“It’s straight here… for real,” Moore said. “I don’t know why people downplay GRCC because they got everything you need.”
Moore’s words seem true as the athletic office at GRCC always seems to be busy trying to make sure each sport is taken care of and the student athletes are in a position to succeed. And fans can see it during games. When one of Glazier’s players is struggling, you can hear him shouting, ”Keep shooting!” to encourage his players from the sidelines.
So even though it may not have the glitz and glamour of a D-I school like Kentucky, it does have people that are willing to work extra hours to make sure that the school and the athletes can succeed.
Current students wanting to get involved in GRCC athletics can fill out a questionnaire on the GRCC athletic page to get connected with specific athletic teams of interest. Open gyms and tryouts are also planned during the summertime. Students can also stop by the athletic department in the Gerald R. Ford Fieldhouse, to get more information.