By: Paul Manno Brockport, N.Y.-
COVID-19 has changed the process of college recruitment for young high school athletes. Recruiting athletes during the pandemic has shifted to a more virtual process rather than face-to-face and this has become difficult for many coaches.
For coach Morgan Flamholtz of the SUNY Brockport women’s softball team, the pandemic has not changed her determination to recruit some of the best Division III athletes to their softball program.
“Thankfully for Division III sports we weren’t put on a recruitment pause like Division I and Division II sports. But yeah the recruitment process is definitely shifting more virtual,” Flamholtz said.
Social media has played a huge role in providing exposure for student athletes, helping to garner attention from coaches and school athletic programs. Luckily for Division III athletics, coaches were still allowed to attend tournaments and in-person events to recruit these athletes.
“It’s definitely going more to social media whether it’s athletes emailing us videos, posting on Youtube, or whatever you can do to get your videos out,” Flamholtz said.
SUNY Brockport is one of a few SUNY schools that has offered in-person classes during the pandemic. The university has made it a priority to make most classes face-to-face and this has become an advantage for recruiting athletes to their women’s softball program. Flamholtz notes how this was beneficial to her softball program.
“So thankfully for Brockport we’re very in-person based for classes, so that’s a very good bargaining tool for us. A lot of schools are still remote and other SUNY schools have a lot of classes online, so at least if kids are coming in as a freshman, they’re going to be attending in person classes and getting that full college experience,” Flamholtz said.
Before the pandemic, athlete recruits were able to stay overnight and watch the team play an exhibition game, but safety regulations and protocols had prevented athletes from getting this in person experience.
“It’s impacted bringing people on because we can just have a recruit come meet with us or do overnights but they have to go through admissions now to officially get into the system through Brockport before they come meet with us and we’re not allowed to do overnights or have spectators at games,” Flamholtz said.
Life before the pandemic provided an easier transition with athletes committing to their schools and getting the full experience of touring the college. For Julia Palopoli the senior captain of the SUNY Brockport women’s softball team, she had an easier path with the recruitment process.
“I got in contact with coach Dumaw and he instantly contacted me back with awesome feedback. He set up a date for me to come visit campus and have a tour of the athletic facilities and we met and talked about potentially coming to play here at Brockport. Having the connection with him through the process made things simple and I got to get my college acceptance done quicker than usual,” Palopoli said.
Palopoli is one of many athletes who has dealt with a lot of emotions during the pandemic due to the uncertainty of playing softball competitively. But her determination to play one last season in Brockport has influenced her to avoid social gatherings, follow COVID-19 protocols and has encouraged her teammates to do the same.
“There’s only so much you can start the season off by doing with all the rules and protocols that change every day. The girls and coaches must take those extra steps to make sure we are staying safe and we are sanitized and masked up constantly through practice,” Palopoli said.
Even though the end of the pandemic is still uncertain, Palopoli believes athletes should still go to college and pursue their athletic dreams.
“Don’t get discouraged. Change happens all the time and no matter if there was a pandemic or not it is still a new environment for you to get used to while playing for a new school away from home. Keep working as hard as you always would, keep your head up, and stay healthy because you will make an impact no matter what role you have on your team,” Palopoli said.
As coaches are adapting to a new seasonal format, some of the changes are negatively affecting the recruitment process. One change that has hurt the recruitment process for SUNY Brockport is that athletes are changing their decision to commit to the school.
“Some people who may have committed early during their junior year or over the summer are now rethinking their choices because of schools releasing their plans for next year,” Flamholtz said.
It has been a difficult process for colleges to recruit athletes during the pandemic, but it has also been difficult for high schools to prepare these athletes for college. John Piropato, the athletic director for Massapequa High School, understands the changes of the COVID-19 protocols within their athletic programs to prepare athletes for college.
“Off the top of my head I’d say that they can’t have in-person interaction with the college and they’re not getting the full benefit of the recruitment process. Visits to campuses are informal so they’re losing out on a lot of information they would gain prior to the COVID restrictions,” Piropato said.
With limited game schedules for all high school athletic programs, this hasn’t changed Piropato’s vision for athletes to continue working hard for college.
“There’s a school for everyone at every level. If it’s your dream to try to play college level, it doesn’t matter if it’s I, II, III, or junior level. Be persistent, follow your dreams, work hard, and there’s a school out there for everyone,” Piropato said.
The challenges that all colleges have faced to resume their college athletics has been difficult, but for SUNY Brockport they are determined to still recruit their athletes through COVID-19 protocols and virtual media outlets.
For more information about SUNY Brockport’s athletic programs, visit their website.