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Coach Howard has article featured in Winston-Salem Chronicle

June 26, 2012

*Courtesy of the Winston-Salem Chronicle
From Hoop Dreams to Life Themes: Division III as a Positive Path for Student-Athletes
Written by Anita Griffin-Howard-Head Basketball Coach of Salem College

Winston-Salem, NC-As I've gained experience coaching through the years at multiple levels of competition and had an opportunity to observe my anitahowardstudent-athletes choose various paths of life, I've seemed to develop a very different outlook on academia and its relationship to athletic competition. In choosing my career path from here on out, my top priority in selecting institutions to coach for will be my comfort level with the educational experience that the recruits I persuade to play for me will receive at the core of their collegiate experience. What type of professionals and leaders will be developed in the classroom as I seek to complement their intellectual growth with a quality athletic experience? How marketable will my student-athletes be globally once they have obtained a degree from an institution that I convinced them to come to? Is the word “student” as prevalent as it should be in using the term prospective student-athlete (PSA)? Or, does the concern for winning and contract negotiations outweigh the notion of producing strong citizens as viable members of society? Hmmm... Ultimately, how did meeting me or my staff for the first time affect the course of a student-athlete’s life?

We all would like to be remembered as positive role models, leaders, motivators, and parental figures as it pertains to the student-athletes who matriculate through our inter-collegiate athletics programs. Thus, it is important that we gauge our impact by strategically positioning ourselves accordingly. I've now coached an elite AAU program, high school, and at NCAA Division I, II, & III schools. I have surprisingly found it most rewarding to coach at my Division III institution (Salem College); because of my ability to share with PSA’s how graduates of Salem College go on to have successful professional careers with regularity. I can boast that the student to faculty ratio is 11:1; 89 percent of professors have Ph.D. or terminal degrees in their field; Salem College has the most racially and ethnically diverse student body of any local institution: 7 percent international students; 25 percent students of color; Salem College’s law school admission rate is 100 percent; the medical school admission rate is 90 percent (The national average for medical school admission is 50 percent).

A major challenge is educating PSA’s on what Division III means. The automatic assumption seems to be that Division III schools are lesser institutions. Contrarily, Division III institutions simply place greater focus on the academic experience. Hence, I seek higher caliber students who have displayed commitment in the classroom and understand why they are coming to college...to earn a quality degree. The myth that Division III schools do not offer scholarships deters a lot of athletes from considering the option of playing at this level. However, there are many opportunities to earn money. In many cases one can match scholarships at Division I & II schools or even exceed what is available at those levels, especially when comparing partial scholarships. Parents and athletes alike get caught up in the hype of the Division title and lose focus on what institutions have to offer academically. I not only challenge our PSA’s and parents to more closely analyze their situations, but I challenge all travel team, recreation, AAU, and high school coaches to become more engaged with encouraging PSA’s to utilize opportunities that are best aligned with providing student-athletes with great educational advantages in life. PSA’s shouldn’t make hasty decisions based on dreams instead of reality. As the NCAA commercial says, “the reality is that most collegiate athletes will go pro in something other than sports”. Decisions should be based on which institution can best serve PSA’s in reaching their career goals in terms of success in the field of life in addition to on the court.

Student-athletes only receive four years of eligibility. I caution them to think about where they want to be at the conclusion of those four years. Did you obtain skills and knowledge that will benefit you professionally? Are you a better person than you were when you arrived for college? Have you connected with a group of peers and created a network comprised of future leaders, CEO's, and presidents? Or did you go just because you received an athletic scholarship and you thought the school would be fun? Did your parents explain what the real world would look like? I recognize the profound significance of Title IX and utilize my opportunities as a result of it to positively uplift women. I am a supporter and fan of women's sports. However, we must realize there is and will always be a very small select group of athletes that are deemed “elite” in men’s and women’s sports alike. So why not consider attending a school where you can be a big fish in a small pond while getting a great education, rather than spend time somewhere that is not as compatible, risk not being happy, and feel unwanted, which leads you down the path of the infamous transfer cycle. Another reality is that there is still a great disparity in the earning potential between male and female professional athletes. The average salary for WNBA athletes is approximately $39K. The average NBA salary is $5.15M. I highlight this not to diminish the relevance of women's professional basketball, but rather to highlight the significance of proper educational choices when selecting a college to attend. The focus should be more of professional development as a top priority.

My Division III experience has allowed me to regain focus on the big picture..."uplifting young women". Scoff at the fine institutions of higher education that are Division III if you wish. I've come to reconsider as I've received the experience and knowledge of life. Before you commit to a college or university, do your research by checking the success and career placement rates of the students that went there before you. Research the traditions and check the ability of the alumni to make sizable contributions to the schools as a result of the path toward success the school placed them on. I can clearly explain to students how coming to play for me will increase their chances of being successful in life! This is now and will remain at the core of what I do!

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