The Recruiting of Saona Chapman
 
photo by jackson
  Successful athletes are much admired in today's society and culture. But beyond the athletes' natural abilities and talents, most fans don't fully appreciate the work and sacrifice required to reach that success.

  With the recent local (UConn Husky Hoopla) speculation on where many top high-school recruits will spend their college careers, I've found fan interest about these decisions is higher than ever. The recruiting process is essentially private between a player and the schools involved. Out of the glare of any media, athletes make what is likely the most important decision of their young lives so far. It's both that "importance," together with it's rare out-of-public view aspect that makes it of special interest to the casual sports fan.

  The recruiting ritual is different for every kid. Colleges try to get the most talented players they can while the high school athletes look for a highly competitive program or one that promises them more playing time. Highly talented players are recruited by nearly every school... while lower ranked players often contact coaches themselves with videotapes in order to make themselves known. Most kids fall in-between, with schools trying to strategically sell their program to their top choices, and the athletes trying to choose a school before those few scholarships are taken. Although there is generally no wrong decision for an athlete (they are, for the most part, receiving full 4-year scholarships), it can be a long, pressure-filled, process.

  When athletes do select a college, most local newspapers limit themselves to a brief "official" announcement. Occasionally there'll also be a photo or short news story.This story was originally published over 3 days, Dec 8-10 2000, in the Norwich Bulletin... and it totalled 4-1/2 full newspaper pages of text and photos -- a huge article by any measure. The only story I'd ever seen even remotely similar to it was a Sports Illustrated story (1-98) on UConn's Tamika Williams and Duke's Krista Gingrich, chronicling their high school recruitment.

  The Norwich Bulletin was not on-line when this story was published, so I decided to assemble and up-load it myself. First, for the benefit of (so many) other sports & hardcore basketball fans across the country -- it seemed wasteful for such (hard) work to just disappear in a single day and never be seen again. Secondly, I needed to get myself some hands-on experience coding web pages. So I edited and assembled it, including the graphics, into a simple layout within a few days. The buzzing action of the current hoops season contributed to waiting until the following fall recruiting period ('01)... when I finally up-loaded it. The (positive) feedback from some online basketball post-boards then confirmed my initial feelings.

  The story here consists of 3 web pages of the original print story, plus an additional page with a few photos I took during Saona's senior year (like the one above). The only changes I made to my original layout (on another server & url) was to add some css for formatting. Let me know if you have problems viewing anything with older browsers.

  I want to thank Chris Casavant and The Norwich Bulletin for permission to use this material; and Rory Glaeseman, Mark Brunton, & John Shishmanian for their original photos. I did have to scan, edit, and enhance those graphics for the web, but the original photo work was terrific, making for a superior article. Chris Casavant spent a year assembling the background reporting for this piece. Chris is a reporter -- he wisely avoids opinion in his writing, instead letting the facts stand on their own. I wish more news-reporters were as professional in their writing. Lastly, I thank Saona and her family for sharing a bit of their lives. I don't know her personally, but having watched her for 4 years at NFA, she seems every bit the terrific, thoughtful kid you'll read about here. Seeing her take time to talk with young 7-9 year-old girls at the state-championship games speaks volumes of who she is.

  This story is not aimed solely at either local NFA fans or of the colleges involved, but is more universal as a human-interest story of an athlete's quest. Sports-fans of all stripes should find it engaging because it echoes what so many kids experience throughout the country. It should give the casual fan insight into aspects of sports not usually seen. Saona's story is representative of thousands of other high-school girls and boys across the country... in all types of sports. It is also unique to one local Connecticut girl. And, wherever your team affections lie... as Gene Hackman says in Hoosiers: "these players deserve your respect." Indeed! I hope you enjoy it.

UPDATE NOTE:
In April of 2002, following Saona's freshman season, she made the decision to transfer to another college. While this is never an easy decision for a student-athlete (or just the regular student), it only amplifies some of the issues that this article deals with. It is difficult for anyone to be completely sure how future events will impact one's life after making a major life choice; it is even harder when it's done at such a young age, and with so many elements being weighed in the balance.

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