Lauren Wong | The Poly Post

The forgotten kids

By Dylan Long, Oct. 31, 2023

Getting to play collegiate sports is one of the greatest achievements an athlete can have in their life. It is the reward for years of hard work and dedication in the sport you have always loved.

Receiving an athletic scholarship in high school meant I was on my way toward conquering my dream of playing college sports, but I had to overcome circumstances nobody prior to me endured.

I had to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic shutting down my high school career. The pandemic hit during my junior year, widely regarded as the most important in a high school athlete’s career. It is the year when colleges start seriously recruiting players across the country. Losing that season to COVID-19 was heartbreaking.

I had worked 17 long and hard years to get to where I was. I couldn’t fathom losing it all because of a pandemic. It just didn’t seem real. But when the whole world stopped, I put my head down and kept working. I blocked out my doubts and anxieties that arose during this dark time, and tried to put in as much work as I could.

Through it all, I made it to the other side with a scholarship in hand. Despite the canceled college camps and games, I did something that truly felt impossible at the time. I was proud of myself and ready to start my college career, until I realized what was waiting for me on the other side.

People love college sports because of the pride athletes have in representing their school on a national level. Getting to watch 18- to 22-year-old kids live out a life-long dream of playing in front of millions across the country is a truly amazing thing. That was until COVID-19 came along, and these “18-to 22-year-old kids” quickly turned into adults who backlogged the recruiting system for people like myself.

Athletes who were playing college sports when the pandemic hit had a wild 2020. They had to process the sudden shut down of their season and wonder if they would ever get the chance to play again.

The entire country rallied around college athletes and fought the NCAA to grant extra eligibility so they could finish their college careers on their own terms. The NCAA obliged and athletes got their careers extended. This however, didn’t finish with the happy ending everyone hoped for.

The first year these changes were really seen was the fall of 2021, which was also my first semester of college. I was joining a team filled with returning athletes who hadn’t played a game in two years.

Because of this, I was only one of three incoming freshmen. But more importantly, I was joining a team that had 24-, 25-,-and even 26-year-old-players. As an 18-year-old freshman, this immediately put me at a massive disadvantage. I was now playing with guys who started their college careers while I was still in middle school.

The basic structure of college sports was built on a simple idea you get four years to play, with only a select few moving on to play professionally. But for the majority of college athletes, it is the last four years you get to be an athlete. No matter where you end up, you only get four years and that is it. Life is supposed to go on.

I feel as if people have never cared about my class. College athletes who experienced the pandemic while in college got an endless amount of COVID eligibility.

Playing college sports at 25 years old is not right. It is the exact opposite of why college athletics were created in the first place. I didn’t get to add on extra years of eligibility because of the pandemic. I was forced to move on. I was forced to enter into a program filled to the brim with players and locked me out of being able to sustain any type of success.

It’s why I’m writing this article, instead of getting interviewed after a game. I would have loved to get to repeat my high school junior and senior seasons. But I didn’t. I moved on and faced a new challenge in life. Something more people should have been forced to do.

When people remember how COVID-19 affected college sports, I hope they remember the forgotten kids. The kids forced to move on from high school and jump into crowded college programs that didn’t really want to waste time developing a young freshman athlete. The kids who had to fight for a spot against a guy who is six years older than them. The kids who never get recognized for the horrible situation they had to inherit. Because as one of them myself, we never go a day without wishing we were dealt a different hand in life.

Feature image courtesy of Lauren Wong

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