New Paltz High School seniors signed their letters of intent to participate in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) at their respective sports and colleges this coming fall. There were two large tables decorated with maroon-and-white New Paltz logos and draperies as backdrops for this prestigious ceremony, where students were called up one by one, their sport and college named and then photos taken of them signing, alone and with their families, friends and fellow teammates.
Among this group included Leo Kuyl, state swimming champion in the 100-yard freestyle, who not only signed with the Division I school Bucknell, but also received a banner that will be hung in the gymnasium recognizing his state title. Kuyl was joined by fellow teammates Sean Geisler and Tadeusz Trzewik-Quinn, who have both signed to swim at Connecticut College, and Abigail Santos, who will go on to swim at Nazareth College along with her sister, Kaela Santos. This adds to a long list of New Paltz swimmers who have gone all the way to Olympic trials and beyond, without their school district having a pool.
The swimmers were flanked by NPHS lacrosse players Blaise Driscoll, who will play for Lander University, and Brett Fischer, who will play for SUNY Delhi. Then there were the ballers: Samuel Marshall and Isabella Santos, who will be hitting the books and the hoops for Sarah Lawrence College and Hunter College, respectively. Anna McDuffie will bring her fancy footwork on the soccer field to SUNY Plattsburgh, and Keira Coulard-Smith will both swim and pole vault for Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Adding a little more sporty spice to the mix was Alexandra Cymbal, who has committed to playing golf at Union College, and had to leave for the state championships at Cornell University right after the signing. Casey Burke and Axel Rodriguez will play basketball at SUNY Plattsburgh.
There were photos and food and laughter, and most of all, celebration of these kids who not only have to achieve the highest standards in their respective sports even to be considered to play in college, but also their academics. Time management is critical for the student athlete, and becomes even more so as they leave home and their academic and athletic stakes rise to a new level. According to the NCAA, there are only 347 Division I schools, 309 Division II schools and 442 Division III schools.
“These kids work hard all day in class and commit their free time to support the school athletic program while aspiring to achieve personal goals. It’s not always an easy task to juggle academics and extracurricular activities,” said Jennifer Geisler, whose son Sean will be swimming and studying at Connecticut College for the Camels this fall. She echoed the sentiments of so many who turned out to support their athlete: “I’m so proud of all the student athletes, and I was thrilled to have my son recognized for his accomplishments among his peers and family. Hard work pays off, and this event was a perfect opportunity to document this exciting time in their lives. I think the kids felt just as special as the parents that were able to attend the event. It was a great celebration; many thanks to all that contributed to this special day.”
This is a far cry from the backroom signings that happened, with little to no fanfare or recognition, for only Division I-bound athletes who were receiving scholarship money. Several people point to the combined efforts and vision of New Paltz Athletic Association (NPAA) members Joanne Metzger and Tanya Santos, along with the high school’s new athletic director, Greg Warren, as being responsible for helping to bring these New Paltz athletes into the light. “They were instrumental in making this event happen,” said Teresa Thompson, a New Paltz School Board member and an Athletic Association member. “They deserve a ton of credit for working on this and making it happen.”
“In working with the New Paltz Athletic Association, we decided that this was an important thing to recognize: honoring our seniors who are going on to commit to being both students and athletes at the college level.” Warren noted that some schools follow the NCAA “official” signing days for Division I, II and III, but that in New Paltz’s case, they wanted everyone to be together. “We wanted to be all-inclusive, and I think as a district, it’s incredible that we have students who are going on to play at all three divisions. It’s not an easy thing to leave for college and prepare for that academic load and then to have an athletic commitment on top of it.” Warren noted that the NPAA was able to get the backdrops and skirting with the New Paltz logo on it last year, but not in time to do the signing event until the summer. “This year we were excited to do it within the school year and before graduation.”
Tanya Santos of the NPAA, now the mother of two college swimmers who have come through NPHS, said, “Working with Greg Warren makes it really easy and exciting to do these types of things,” adding that, in her estimation, it is important for “everyone to see what these kids have accomplished. I want all of their teammates to see them honored and hopefully to get inspired to want to compete in college. I know as a parent that after watching my children for 14 years work at, commit to and excel at a sport, you want to celebrate its continuation. It’s not an ending, but just the beginning of a whole new chapter.”
She said that the NPAA has plans to improve the ceremony each year. “This year we had it before graduation, in the auditorium, and it was great; but we’re learning as we go. I want to see more faculty, administrators, school board members come to the signings, and teammates as well. It was so wonderful to see the lacrosse team there to support their friends. We didn’t think to invite the teammates, because it was during school; but next year, I’d like to see us do that!”
Another point that a coach brought up is how hard it is for these students to balance the level of commitment it takes to not only get accepted to these various colleges, but also to land on a roster and in some cases have their athletic prowess merit them financial and/or academic scholarships. After some bagels and fruit and photo fanfare, it was back to class for these eleven college-bound student athletes!