Feature by Mallory Cage
COLUMBIA, South Carolina, September 14. EVERY July, hundreds of high school seniors begin the recruiting process. These kids will go through numerous emails, phone calls and even a few recruiting trips in an effort to pick the right school, but when there are more than 400 men's swimming and diving programs and almost 600 women's teams, how does a school standout?
Each athlete is unique. Some will be immediately drawn to the glamour of a large Division I school; others may opt for a smaller program that will allow them to be more involved in activities outside of swimming. All three divisions, as well as the NAIA and NJCAA, can present athletes with unique opportunities and every school within these divisions will present an even more unique experience.
Division I and Division II schools are typically larger schools with bigger programs that receive more attention; they are also the only divisions to offer the opportunity for athletic scholarships, however, for many students financial aid does not outweigh the unique benefits of a Division III program.
There are around 200 programs in Division III that offer students with the prospect of swimming for a registered NCAA program. These programs are located all across the country and can suit any student's desire for a particular climate or setting.
Emory University in Atlanta, Ga., is a Division III school located in the heart of Georgia's biggest city. It is one of the only Division III schools that offer athletics in the southeast, but the competition to attract both quality students and swimmers is of the highest level.
Division III schools are typically some of the best academic schools in the country, and many offer specialty classes for specific majors that students cannot get anywhere else. They can also offer solid programs that are free from some of the problems of larger schools. So how does a Division III program standout?
Emory has done it in many ways but there is one thing they do every three years that almost no other school has offered, they offer their athletes the trip of a lifetime.
At the beginning of August, the teams packed their bags and headed overseas for a nine-day foreign tour through Italy. The trip began in Milan and took the team through cities such as Tuscany, Florence, Rome and a few others.
Every day started with a workout at a local pool and then the team participated in various tours and activities. This year, they took a boat tour and even hiked through the Alps. Each class was responsible for researching one of the cities they were visiting, the students would then plan out and lead the tour for the day.
Head Coach Jon Howell and his staff took the team on their first foreign tour in 2005 and it has now become somewhat of a tradition. Ever since that first trip in 2005, the team has gone every three years. This gives every class a chance to travel with the team overseas. They have always gone to Italy, but the trip has been altered slightly each year.
Howell says this trip means something different to each of his athletes. Some have never been out of the country before and just leaving the U.S. was exciting, for others that have extensive travel experience, this trip is a chance to spend time with teammates and coaches without the stresses of everyday college life.
"I get to enjoy being with them and they get to enjoy being with each other without a real heavy load of training and without the day to day life of being a student-athlete," said Howell. "They are not running off to study for a test, they're not on a winter training trip where the training is really hard and the focus is almost exclusively on the training. "
Howell says that the goals of the trip are to provide a good cultural experience and to create a stronger bond within the team but he does not discount the appeal to possible recruits.
"I know for a lot of kids the opportunity to go abroad and to go abroad as a team is appealing," said Howell. "I'm sure there is no one that has chosen to come to Emory specifically for the foreign tour but I do think it's one of the things that set us apart. The experience the kids have here certainly goes well beyond the pool and I think this is just one example of that."
With the addition of the foreign tour and the continuation of a winter trip to Florida this year, Emory's sophomores, juniors and seniors will have two training trips; and in an economy that has forced programs across all three divisions to cut travel this can be very appealing to possible recruits.
"I think recruits are looking for an experience they are going to get over four years," said Howell. "And for our team it's definitely been a perk and it's something they have to look forward to."
And, it seems to be working. Emory posted one of the largest recruiting classes in Division III this past year and these recruits will join in on a tradition of success. The women's program has won the Division III National Championship for the past two years and the men's program has finished in the top three for the past three years.
And, this success seems to correlate very well with the foreign tour. While the focus of the tour is not the training, there is some benefit to the extra practices and Howell says some of the team's most successful years have come after foreign tours. After the first tour in 2005 the women's team went on to win their first national championship and the men's team took second.
Instead of returning in time for classes in August, all of the returning athletes head back to Atlanta early to get in a few practices before heading overseas. These extra practices and then the work they get in while in Italy add to the other benefits the athletes and coaches receive from the tour.
Not every program can offer trips like Emory's foreign tour. Various conferences that each school belongs to, may place restrictions on how long teams can travel. Potential recruits should remember that every NCAA program has benefits that only they can offer and a school should not be chosen based solely on the type of training trip they have.
Each student athlete should research the school and not be afraid to ask coaches and swimmers about what makes their school the best. It is specifics like this trip or other unique opportunities that can help a program stand out among the rest and catch a potential student-athlete's notice.