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Coaches outline challenges in recruiting new student athletes

Swim+and+Dive+Head+Coach+Erin+Hurley+discusses+the+challenges+of+recruiting+student+athletes.+
Swim and Dive Head Coach Erin Hurley discusses the challenges of recruiting student athletes.
Swim and Dive Head Coach Erin Hurley discusses the challenges of recruiting student athletes. Photo by Elena Copell.

By Frank Li
lifrank@grinnell.edu

Recruiting for sports at Grinnell can be a long and difficult process, with uncertain results. Student-athletes are expected to succeed in both the classroom and on the field.

The athletics recruiting process at the College differs depending on the team. “We use a variety of sources [when recruiting athletes]. We work in close conjunction with the admissions office, and they’ll also let us know if they’re working with a student that is interested in a sport. We can also use recruiting services for swimming. We can get the names of students with their times, and what events they swam,” said head swim and dive coach Erin Hurley.

Recruits can be contacted out of middle school. “As soon as the freshman or sophomore year of high school, we can establish email communication [with potential recruits] back and forth junior year, we try to get them to campus during junior visit day. When they become seniors, they can do an overnight [stay] in the fall,” Hurley said.

For other sports, coaches may also travel to seek out potential recruits. Tim Hollibaugh, baseball head coach and assistant football head coach, often finds himself traveling to elite training camps across the nation.

“During the summer, I go to referee camps and see kids play. … All these are academic camps from Harvard to Dartmouth. We get a grouping of names then reach out to them through phone or email,” said Hollibaugh.

The successful recruitment of a prospective student-athlete depends on many different factors, and Grinnell College’s coaches want to ensure the best possible outcome for both parties. “There’s a lot of pressure on college students right now … but there’s a place for everybody. You just have to find the right school with what you need,” Hurley said.

Some teams find more success than others in the team-building process. Swimming, for example, is anticipating a larger swim team than usual in 2020. “We are graduating a small men’s class and a medium size women’s class, so we will be bigger next year,” Hurley said.

Football, on the other hand, has had some trouble recruiting a large enough squad, partially due to the College’s location. “The biggest obstacles we have to navigate is location and size. … High school seniors from the east and west coast don’t typically think about going to school in Iowa,” Hollibaugh said.

But despite this, he said he notices recruits being swept away by what Grinnell has to offer. “It’s oftentimes difficult to generate the interest and get them to visit, but once we get them to visit, they typically see the type of campus and school culture we have to offer,” Hollibaugh said.

On top of this, being courted as an athletic recruit doesn’t necessarily guarantee admission into the College. Hollibaugh spoke about the increasing difficulty of admission into Grinnell. “We’ll have 100 kids apply that are interested in playing baseball, and maybe 20 of those are admitted.”

In the end, both coaches said what matters most is finding student-athletes who can thrive both athletically and academically at Grinnell. “At Grinnell, we are looking for the cream of the crop. We are looking for top academic students who can also contribute to our athletic programs,” Hurley said.

For Hurley, Grinnell College offers a special experience for the right student-athlete. “Grinnell has a great perspective and balance where athletics brings a positive balance to a liberal arts education. In swimming, we are recruiting them to come to Grinnell. We are not recruiting them to swim. They need to buy into all of what Grinnell has to offer. You have a community, you have a sense of belonging. … You have an opportunity to work with people throughout an extended period of time to achieve something greater than yourself.”

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