Written by Jeff Vorva
Photo by Jeff Vorva
Sandburg volleyball player Jake Hanes (middle) and wrestlers Rudy Yates (left) and Louie Hayes are now a part of the two percent of 8 million athletes who play high school sports and go on to a Division I college to participate in athletics.
Here is the cool thing about sports.
No matter if you are 6-foot-10 or if you barely weigh 100 pounds, if you put in time and energy to be an elite athlete, you will usually get rewarded.
It’s a lot like life. Work your butt off and you should succeed. OK, sometimes people can work their butt off and not only fail, but have to go butt-less the rest of their lives.
But that’s life.
On Nov. 11, it was national signing day and athletes from all over the country either signed for scholarships at NCAA Division I, II, NAIA or junior college schools or announced their intentions of attending an NCAA Division III school.
There were elite basketball players who announced their futures in front of microphones and cameras and there were some athletes who signed without even their high school’s athletic directors knowing about it.
Since this is an early signing period, it’s not as crazy as it will be later in the school year when the football players and all of the others make their decisions. I e-mailed the athletic directors in the area and it appears that 25 signed or committed last week.
The biggest group came from Sandburg, where 10 athletes from eight different sports showed up for a special gathering at the school. Sandburg athletic director Mark Krusz ran the show and beamed like these athletes were his own sons and daughters who were heading to college. It was almost like a holiday for him.
It’s not an easy accomplishment for these athletes.
Depending on what study you want to read or believe, there are roughly 8 million students playing high school sports and only about six or seven percent who go on to play college sports. About two percent play on the Division I level.
Yet, there in the room were six Sandburg athletes inking letters-of-intent to play at Division I schools including 6-foot-10 volleyball player Jake Hanes and wrestlers Louie Hayes (who wrestled last year at 106 pounds) and Rudy Yates (126 pounds).
Hanes is heading to Ohio State. I’m sorry, I mean The Ohio State University.
Hayes is heading out east to the University of Virginia.
Yates chose the University of Northern Iowa.
I wanted to pose the three together and Hanes was all for it. He even stuck his long arms out. The body language on the wrestlers indicated they weren’t all that thrilled with my idea but they still played along.
The idea behind the photo was to point out that here were three of the best athletes in the country celebrating together a great accomplishment no matter if their bodies were big or small.
Elite is elite.
They all had their crosses to bear. Hayes and Yates probably heard all kinds of insults growing up. Hanes probably hit his head on a low ceiling or two and likely found hotel beds to be a little on the tiny side. He’s probably heard a few insults as well.
But none of that matters. These three found a sport they love and put in many hours of training and working out to get to this point. They sacrificed some of their summers and offseasons to participate on the club level to get to the point where college coaches were drooling to get them.
This was no accident.
Other DI athletes from Sandburg were wrestler Brian Krasowski (University of Pennsylvania), swimmer Clare Lawlor (Rutgers) and basketball player Victoria Stavropoulos (Georgia Southern University).
Volleyball player Caroline Stefanon is heading to Division II Lewis University, swimmer Kevin Stratton is going to Division II Drury and softball players Paige Chladek and Niki Saviano are taking their pitching and catching talents to Division III Lakeland.
Nine players from Marist signed or committed.
In girls basketball, Dajae Black is heading to Lewis while Tehya Fortune and Katelyn Rosner are heading to the University of Illinois—Springfield.
Class 4A softball champions Lizzie Annerino (Boston University ) and Madison Naujokas (James Madison) will play in college.
Volleyball stars Allyssa Rizzo (Montana State University), Anne Marie Stifter (University of Chicago) and Emily Sullivan (Spring Hill College) announced their choices.
And in a pretty cool twist, Maura Smith, who is not on the powerhouse Marist squad, was able to grab some college attention through her club team, the Chicago Elite, and is headed to Grand Valley State in Michigan.
At Mother McAuley, softball player Amy Balich is headed to The Ohio State University, volleyball player Jane DeJarld committed to Boston College while teammate Kaitlyn Johnson is heading to Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and water polo star Claire Mueller hopes to make a big splash at St. Francis in Booklyn.
Others who took advantage of the early signing period, according to information supplied by the athletic directors, were St. Laurence baseball player Anthony Rios (Lewis), Shepard softball players Skylor Hilger (DePaul) and Heather O’Kelly (Benedictine in Mesa, Ariz.) and Richards baseball player Chris Zeschke (Lewis).
There will be plenty more to come in the coming months.
So big or small, high-profile sport or minor sport, these athletes are entering a world few will experience.