The college recruiting process can be complicated and competitive, momentous and monotonous, exciting and stressful, and not just for the high school hopefuls who are trying to attract the attention of college coaches and continue their athletic careers at the next level.
Their parents — who shuttle their up-and-coming prospects to and from practice, pay for camps and tournaments, constantly stock the home fridge, replace broken equipment, watch games with umbrellas at cold, rainy fields, visit and revisit college campuses, and arrange family vacations around AAU tournaments — are equally emotionally invested in the process as their kids chase their dreams of playing in college, furthering their education and possibly earning a scholarship.
Only one in 14 high school athletes go on to play in college, while even fewer (one in 50) play at the Division 1 level. But those who do make it can benefit from the more than $2.9 billion in athletic aid awarded annually to more than 150,000 student-athletes.
Of course, the first step in the process is getting noticed.
“It’s very stressful as a parent because you’re in love with your children,” said former Shepherd Hill Regional football coach Chris Lindstrom, whose sons, Chris and Alec, earned scholarships to play football at Boston College and whose daughter Ingrid, a junior at Shepherd Hill, is being recruited for volleyball. “You don’t like to go through the apprehension of ‘Is someone going to be interested in me or not, and will I get the opportunity?’ It’s a lot of stress for the child and as parents we try to absorb as much stress as possible.”
Parents’ love, support and commitment can be critical to the process.
“It truly is a family affair,” said Dawn Lindstrom, Chris’ wife and driver of the “old swag wagon,” she said with a laugh. “It’s like a motel, it’s like a restaurant. We have spent hours in that car.”
Michael and Sandy Burke of Sutton haven’t taken a summer vacation the last three years, but they have traveled much of the country to watch their son Sean, a senior at St. John’s High, play for L&M Baseball, an elite-level college prospect travel program based in Rhode Island.
“It’s a lot of driving around and sitting at games, and you can’t really commit to plans ahead of time because it’s a lot of, ‘If you win this game, you play at this time. If you lose, you might go home,’ ” Sandy Burke said, “but we enjoy it and we wouldn’t miss a game.”
After years of commitment and sacrifice, the Burkes could not have been more proud when Sean, who helped St. John’s to this year’s Super 8 Tournament title, verbally committed to the University of Maryland last October.
Division 1 or 2 athletes accepting scholarships will sign National Letters of Intent during specific “signing periods” each year. Burke will sign his NLI in November.
The Burkes knew by the time Sean was a freshman in high school he had a shot at playing Division 1 college baseball. The first school in the mix was Boston College, which came on Sean’s radar his sophomore year.
“That was the first realization that ‘This is happening,’ ” Sandy Burke said. “The process started happening a lot sooner than we thought it was going to.”
Sean drew interest from about 15 schools.
“At the beginning, it was exciting,” Sandy Burke said. “In the middle of the process, it got a little overwhelming and, at points, stressful, thinking, ‘What’s going to be the right fit, the right decision for him?’ Coaches all want you to go with them, and we told him that he can’t pick a college for a coach. Coaching is part of it, but you have to pick a college for a college. You have to love the college and it has to be a good academic school and you have to like the coach. It has to be the whole package.”
Visits to schools followed, and when they got in the car after touring Maryland, Sandy had a feeling.
“I could just see it in his face,” she said. “I knew that was the place. The final decision part the last couple months was stressful, but once he made the decision it was a weight off our shoulders, a proud moment and a relief.”
When an athlete signs a National Letter of Intent, he or she is no longer allowed to be recruited by another school. Likewise, colleges who sign athletes to NLIs must honor their financial award even if the committed athlete is injured.
“He had to call some coaches and say, ‘Thank you for your offer, but I’ve decided to go somewhere else,’ ” Sandy Burke said, “and I think that was very difficult because he was so appreciative of their interest in him and the offers. He’s worked his tail off to get to this point.”
For the last 15 years or so, Bernie and Annmarie Quinlivan have spent much of their weekends at ice rinks, supporting their older twins, Jack and Dan, who led the Shrewsbury High hockey team to a Division 3 state title in 2015, and their younger twins, Liam and Anthony, who achieved that feat this year.
“You’re spending your whole life with your kids,” Bernie Quinlivan said, “and that’s the best part.”
The older boys would shoot pucks in the driveway that sometimes ended up in the woods behind the Quinlivans’ house. Bernie built a fence to keep the pucks in the driveway and save the boys time.
“ ‘Mom, we need a ride to practice; Dad, we need a ride to this tournament,’ ” Dan Quinlivan said. “Anything we needed to do, they were willing to do it. It’s a big part of the process.”
Jack Quinlivan, 21, is about to begin his freshman year at the University of Maine, where he will play for the Black Bears. Dan, a junior at UMass, was also recruited out of high school but opted not to play sports in college. Liam and Anthony are seniors at Shrewsbury and hopeful of following in Jack’s footsteps and playing at the Division 1 level in college.
“When you go to some of these tournaments,” Annmarie Quinlivan said, “the volume is incredible. There are all these kids and you think, ‘What is going to make your kid stand out if he has the ability to play D1?’ When (college scouts) are looking at you, they’re looking at the potential, so you have to put the time in. It’s a growing process. You have to put the time in and stay committed.”
Jack did just that.
“He worked morning until night,” Annmarie said, and the month before Jack enrolled at Albany Academy for a postgraduate year, he caught the eye of a Maine coach during a tournament in Foxboro. A week later, Jack was committed to Maine.
After spending one year at Albany, Jack played last year for the Junior Bruins, following the now-common path to Division 1 college hockey — two years of prep school and/or junior hockey after high school. He recently brought home Maine hats for his family to wear this winter.
“It was very unusual,” Bernie said. “Honestly, no Division 1 colleges are going to recruit at a Division 3 high school level. They wait for those kids to play juniors or go to prep school, so we knew right away if he wanted to (play D1), it was going to take at least two years after high school.”
If Liam and Anthony follow Jack’s path, it will be another couple of years before they play in college, and Bernie and Annmarie will be along for another exciting journey.
“People in the hockey world ask a lot, ‘Why are the younger guys staying to play at Shrewsbury? They’ve already done their thing winning a state title,’ ” Annmarie Quinlivan said. “I’ve told them, ‘They want to be captains and give back and finish out the year at Shrewsbury at go for it again.’ It’s a great opportunity. Jack and Dan have always said to enjoy high school.”
Chris Lindstrom said from day one that Chris and Alec, both linemen, were not super athletes as youngsters. Their work ethic and desire is what would get them college opportunities, dad Chris believed.
After all, more than a million high school students played varsity football last year, but only 8 percent went on to play in college with only 2.4 percent competing at the Division 1 level, according to the National Federation of High Schools.
“It’s just hard, hard work,” said Chris, a hall-of-fame lineman at Boston University who played three seasons in the NFL, “and colleges aren’t going to find you unless you’re Ron Brace, so you have to be proactive as a parent. We’ve spent a lot of money taking them to combines, taking them to college camps, to any kind of athletic event that colleges would be at. The parents have to be proactive. Once they know who you are, it’s a matter of ‘What’s the best fit for the child?’ ”
It was always younger Chris’ dream to attend BC, so when he was offered, it was not a hard decision, Dawn said. In fact, soon after signing his National Letter of Intent, Chris enrolled at BC early.
Alec was also heavily recruited by UMass, which he loved, but ultimately wanted to play in college with his brother while also making it easier on his parents, going one place on Saturdays in the fall.
“We tried to let them make the decisions completely,” Chris Lindstrom said. “We tried to stay out of the process as far as making the decision. They have to spend four years there and it’s the start of their independent life.”
Chris and Dawn’s son, Ryan Dugan, who succeeded Chris as Shepherd Hill coach, played quarterback at Wesleyan, so they’ve been through the recruiting process a few times.
Next up is their oldest daughter Ingrid, who has blossomed as a volleyball star.
“It’s exciting,” Dawn Lindstrom said. “Focusing on volleyball is a different avenue than football, so we’re learning, but we’re having fun.”
Dawn’s and Chris’ summer involved traveling around to showcases and the Bay State Games to watch Ingrid play, watching her go off to early-morning and nighttime workouts, just like they did with their sons. UNH and Fairfield are among the schools on Ingrid’s radar.
“She’s very excited to see what she can do,” Chris Lindstrom said. “She wants to live up to her brothers and she brings the same tenacity to volleyball. It’s interesting to watch her play.”
Young Chris is coming off a sophomore season in which he started all 13 games at right guard for the Eagles. Alec begins his freshman year and the Lindstroms will be linemates.
“What mother wouldn’t be proud,” Dawn said, “first of all for the caliber of education, and that to me is the most important aspect, that they’re going to have great educations, but I’m not going to lie. I love putting on my BC jersey and tailgating and going to cheer them on.”