The scene replayed itself across gyms, libraries and auditoriums throughout high schools in the Pikes Peak region on Wednesday as student-athletes, in front of family and friends, took a collective breath before applying signatures to their most important document, at least for now:
A National Letter of Intent.
The signing of this binding agreement between a prospective student and his or her NCAA school of choice ends years of recruiting visits, paperwork, interviews, phone calls and grueling decisions on where to call home for the next handful of years.
Wednesday marked the first day of what the NCAA and NLI call the “early period” that student-athletes who compete in basketball, lacrosse, softball, swimming, volleyball and wrestling can sign letters that apply to the 2013-14 academic year.
The area was well-represented, to say the least, with 16 athletes signing with Division I programs across seven sports and many others at other levels.
On Feb. 6, 2013, players from football, as well as field hockey, soccer, track and field and cross country will have their day in the spotlight as these scenes will be staged once again.
For 37 years, Anne James has conducted countless numbers of interviews of perspective student-athletes, first as swimming coach at Arkansas and, for the past seven years, as head swimming and diving coach at Colorado College.
So, when her daughter, Sarah, began hearing from colleges, she knew she could help the Doherty swimmer with the daunting task and important questions to consider when weighing such a life-altering decision.
“It was interesting to be on the receiving end,” said Anne James, who was on hand to watch Sarah sign her National Letter of Intent with Southern Illinois. “It was important for her to get a sense of what the process is like, but we talked about what she liked about each place. I’m happy it worked out the way it did.”
The younger James, a three-time 5A state qualifier in the 100 backstroke and 200 individual medley, definitely felt she had an advantage of having a recruiting expert at her side.
“I’ve listened to her recruit and have been around it my whole life, so it’s pretty cool to be on the other side of those phone calls and emails,” Sarah said. “She gave me a list of questions to ask, to know more about the colleges I was interested in. It was really cool to have the background from my mom. It was really helpful to me.”
The most important message in learning about the ins and outs of NLIs?
“Definitely when it comes to a National Letter of Intent, is to read it all,” Anne James said. “Student-athletes have to realize they’re signing with a school, not a coach. If a coach leaves, they’re still committed to the school.”
Cheyenne Mountain senior lacrosse player Sydney Pinello, who inked her NLI with Saint Mary’s (Calif.) College, offered a bit of advice for her underclassmen friends.
“Start early,” Pinello said. “When it gets to that first day when you can start contacting them, get on it. Always respond to emails. Call them. Feel like you’re a nuisance.”