Many of us have or have had the dream to compete at the collegiate level. We are told that division does not matter and we should choose a place where we will be cared for and developed. But oftentimes when we are initially given this advice, our eyes are still fixed on competing at the Division I level. We are enticed by the recognition, being on TV and other luxuries we may not get anywhere else.
As a society, we have determined DI is the absolute best you can do, which has ultimately made people less interested in schools who are DII, DIII, JUCO, or NAIA. In some ways, this statement is right. The best to ever do it has come from DI institutions. Most of the fastest men and women in the world are currently competing at the DI level. Abby Steiner, Tonea Marshall, and Terrance Laird are just to name a few. DI allows you to train, develop and compete with the best of the best. However, for those of us who are not running nation or world-leading times, where do we go? We can still go DI if we chose to but it may not be as glamorous as we think. Our names and times may go unnoticed. We may feel as if we do not contribute to the team. We may not even compete as often.
DI is an excellent option for a lot of athletes. They need that high caliber of competition to work their way up to the top or the next level. For me, DI was not the best option. By the time I graduated high school, I had run under 60-seconds for the 400m just twice (59.69 PR). That time would have had me ranked in the thousands! I knew that DII and NAIA also had relatively fast athletes. I had the grades and test scores to get into some of the best four-year colleges in the country, so I did not need to attend a JUCO. Although most of the schools I applied to were DI, DIII was the best fit for my athletic career.
So, why DIII? On the basis of it, I simply was not fast enough to attend the schools I wanted. But over time and through a reflection of my seasons at Ithaca College, I started to realize it was deeper than that. I also asked some of my teammates and friends what their reasoning was. Most of their reasoning lies behind getting the best of athletics and academics. They mentioned being an integral part of the team and admiring the caring coaching staff. These answers got me thinking about how to put my "why" into words. So, here are the five reasons why I chose DIII:
Ithaca gave me the opportunity to compete and develop my skills. There is a good chance I would have been a walk-on or redshirted at the other schools I wanted. I could come to practice every day, compete every weekend and have a good chance to place high at post-season championships. The work I put in would not go unnoticed and I would be a big contribution to the team. I would not just be another athlete in a uniform. I would be a teammate in an Ithaca uniform.
2. Deeper relationship with my coaches
I have been close to almost every coach I have had. The trust I develop with them has produced more confidence in my skills. Better confidence means a better performance is on the way. When I first spoke to Coach Potter, I connected with her instantly. It was something about her personality that made me feel wanted. I could tell she was genuinely interested in my progress. Because of the recruiting conversations I have had with her, my relationship with her is strong. I can trust her with my goals athletically and academically. I can go to her about almost anything. From the start, she made it clear that her door was open. I made sure to take a step and walk-in. Fortunately, I feel this way with my assistant coaches, strength and conditioning coaches and athletic trainers. Ithaca has given me the strongest support system I have ever had.
3. Student-Athlete: Emphasis on the "Student", Emphasis on the "Athlete"
I have the Park Scholarship which requires me to maintain a 3.5 GPA, attend periodic meetings and fulfill a community service requirement. On top of this, I double major in Sports Media and Business Administration with a concentration in Sports Management. I also minor in Religious Studies. I have so many credits to complete before I graduate I must take 18 credits, the max, every semester. My coaches have been very understanding about when I need to reschedule practice for academic reasons or vice versa. There is always an effort to make sure I can make up practice or lift. I have never had to sacrifice success in one to ensure my success in the other.
4. One for All and All for One
We are a community. The success of one athlete matters to the success of another athlete. The success of one team matters to the success of another team. We have a strong system where we make sure all athletes thrive in every area of their life. We encourage each other to do our best. We do not let our other athletes slip, and if they do we help them get back up. It is not every man for himself here. The only way we are going to succeed is if we do it all together.
5. Sky's the Limit
I feel there is a very low bar set for DIII athletes in comparison to other divisions. Athletically, we are not expected to go pro or continue with athletics after college. You do not go DIII to be a professional athlete. In DI, the top tier athletes are expected to go pro. You go DI with the hopes of continuing after college. Because our bar is set so low, I believe our potential is high. I can make the goal to be a national champion. I can make the goal to have the DIII record. I can make the goal to be one of the fastest women in the country. I can make the goal to be on the USA World team. I can make the goal to go to the Olympics. I can do and pursue whatever I want because I am not expected to do any of these things. Your goals can be as small or as big as you want and you will always have support behind you. Your goals can have nothing to do with athletics and you will still have support behind you. You are not bound to anything in DIII. Your future is whatever you want it to be.
I am not writing this to convince you to go DIII. I am writing this so you can understand the thought process you need to have behind picking the school you decide to attend. You can find athletes using any, all, or more of these reasons at any institution no matter the division. If you feel as great as I do about Ithaca at any DI, DII, NAIA, or JUCO school, then go! Do not limit yourself because you will feel embarrassed about the school you are at. Your success is up to you. Just make sure you choose the right path to get there.