MHS athletes use club sports to pursue next level athletics

Sophomore Madison Parrish shoots a 3-point shot at her practice at Ohio Dominican University.

Aimee Liu | The Chronicle

Commitment goes far beyond school for athletes hoping to pursue collegiate sports.

Club sports offer student-athletes the ability to play their respective sports at a more competitive level and play in front of collegiate coaches and recruiters. While high school sports give athletes the opportunity to play for and represent their school, additional involvement with club sports is known to be crucial in the college recruitment process.

Sophomore basketball player Madison Parrish plays with Legends U, a high-level travel basketball program based in the Midwest. She said she has been playing with various clubs since sixth grade to prepare her for higher levels.

“It’s really fun going from playing with people at your school to playing with people from other schools all around the country,” Parrish said. “You get to travel with people who are like another set of family and also great basketball players.”

Parrish’s schedule with Legends includes working out during the week and attending practices each weekend. She said that club basketball takes place mainly in the summer and starts following the high school basketball season.

Practices with Legends are usually held in Columbus or Toledo, and last for either three or six hours. Parrish said that with this level of commitment, it is important that she maintains other aspects of her life as well.

“It is a lot of time that I’m putting in, so my family and I make sure that we still have time for me to be a normal kid,” Parrish said. “Even though it’s a club team and it’s outside of school, I’m balancing my social life and making sure academically I’m doing well.”

Junior Mark Rutherford committed to Auburn’s baseball program when he was in eighth grade. Rutherford played with The Prospect Lab (TPL) in Alabama where a scout for the Atlanta Braves who had gone to Auburn helped him get in contact with the school. He said that playing on travel teams in the summer is an important chance to “show off who you are” and to “get looked at by colleges.”

Compared to a school team, Rutherford said that summer ball allows him to focus on more personal goals, rather than a team goal. He said that although training can be tiring, he has fun doing it.

“With summer ball it’s about me having a good year, not winning state, for example,” Rutherford said. “It’s a lot on my body every day, but it’s the most fun because I’m doing something that I care about,” Rutherford said.

Aside from working toward personal goals, club sports are also important because of the exposure they offer to athletes who hope to pursue playing their sports beyond high school. Parrish said that being at the right events and playing well is important for setting up her future.

“[Playing on a club team] gives me a little push into playing at collegiate level basketball with the right staff and support system for me,” Parrish said. “I can really get the exposure to coaches that I would like to play for.”

At club tournaments, there are often college scouts from around the country watching. Parrish said that she is continuing to try to get as much contact with these coaches as she can going into the summer. She said that playing in front of them is a great way to build connections, and being able to showcase her talent and hard work at such events is also quite rewarding.

“It’s very eye-opening because I’m really playing in front of people that I’d hope to play for in the future,” Parrish said. “I feel like we all have the same goal of being elite-level athletes in college one day, and it’s just amazing that I have come so far.”

Parrish said that playing on this higher-level field has also helped shape her into a young adult. She said that keeping track of times and schedules and focusing on herself has given her a feel of what playing basketball in the future may be like.

“There’s a lot of responsibility because you have to be on time and have the leadership skills that you’ll need in the future in collegiate-level basketball,” Parrish said. “It’s really helped me because if I want to play at the next level, this is what I’ll have to do.”

While playing on summer teams provides great opportunities for emerging athletes, the financial aspect is also something families must prepare for. Rutherford said that he must consider what certain teams are charging and what their schedules are before deciding to commit.

“My dad budgets and knows what [teams] do and where [they] go,” Rutherford said. “It takes a lot for [my parents] to schedule that out and it’s not that cheap, so I’m thankful for them to be able to pay for that.”

Summer teams also require a significant amount of travel. Rutherford said that one of his parents always travels with him and they try to make the most of being away from home.

“It’s fun driving, seeing new cultures and environments we haven’t been around,” Rutherford said. “It’s nice having my parents on my side, and making fun stops on the way to tournaments.”

The atmosphere on club teams can also differ from that of high school teams, particularly in competitiveness. Like Parrish, most athletes in clubs are players hoping to pursue higher opportunities.

“Since everybody’s competing alongside and even against each other, sometimes for a collegiate scholarship, that means people are more serious,” Parrish said. “There’s just more intensity and drive to get the goal done.”

Although club basketball focuses on competition, Parrish said she has also formed special bonds with the girls on her team. Parrish has even played alongside girls who she competed against during the high school season.

“Traveling in hotels with the teams and being able to bond is always fun,” Parrish said. “We usually know each other, and it’s just great knowing that everybody is elite-level skill-wise. If they’re putting in the time and effort, then I should be too.”

In addition to growth and recruitment opportunities, Ruthersaid said that playing on a travel team has also given him the chance to form relationships with other high-level players.

“A big part of baseball is connecting with people,” Rutherford said. “I use those moments with my team to connect with people I’ve never met before, try to learn their style of play, and build relationships.”

Playing for summer teams at such tournaments with other high-level players and college scouts present, Rutherford said that it can be strange knowing people are watching him. While it does create pressure, he said that pressure usually does not bother him, knowing he has already earned his place in being there.

“If we feel pressure, we’ve earned it,” Rutherford said. “Pressure is earned, not given. Of course, there is pressure, but it’s not something to dwell on because we’ve earned our spot there and to be in that atmosphere.”

Photo by Kristopher Wallace