Recruiting Even Tougher in Wake of September 11

Recruiting is the toughest part of a college coach’s job. To annually convince the specific players that they target for their program to attend their school is tougher than any game they play, any offensive strategy they teach.

Coaches are competing against rival schools, schools that may offer any other number of variables that could come into play when dealing with a teenager that is trying to decide what they want to do with the rest of their life.

They have to prove themselves, their facilities and their academic institutions not only to the recruits, but to their families as well.

For the head coaches at St. John’s, recruiting has become even harder in the wake of the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001.

“It’s affected us,” said Volleyball Head Coach Joanne Persico-Smith. “I think it affects anyone that was on the bubble about coming here is not coming here now at all.

“You don’t want to make that phone call [to a recruit] because you know that your chances are going to be very slim.”

Before that fateful day more than one year ago, Red Storm coaches and assistants could hail New York as the place to be. The City that Never Sleeps. Home of the Statue of Liberty. Great shopping. Broadway shows.

They could go on about how St. John’s plays in a great conference against the top programs in the country.

They could show off Big East trophies and National Championships, or brand new, state-of-the-art facilities, some that are considered the best of their kind in the Northeast.

But now, none of that matters like it did before.

Parents aren’t as worried about their son or daughter being an All-American or about how many times they play on television.

Now, they are worried about their safety. They are worried about despicable acts that were once only the thoughts of Hollywood for the plot of the next Arnold Schwarzenegger movie.

“I think the biggest way that we’ve seen affected is more the parents,” said Softball Head Coach Melody Cope. “Kids are still very interested in looking at St. John’s. I think parents are much more hesitant at this point.”

Recruiting can also involve mudslinging. Does the possibility exist that a rival of St. John’s would try to use the attacks on the World Trade Center to scare a recruit away from St. John’s and into their own backyard, one that they portray as being safe?

Outrageous claims have always been a part of the recruiting process, an arena where some will do anything to get noticed and stay noticed.

The Red Storm recruiting classes of 2001 were signed, sealed and delivered after Sept. 11. They included recruits from Arizona, Texas and Florida, among other states from around the country.

Still, there were those who had an understandable change of heart about even considering St. John’s as a place to spend the next four years.

“We lost a number of recruits, in particular from the West Coast,” said Women’s Soccer Head Coach Ian Stone. “We lost people who didn’t even come on official visits because they didn’t want to fly into New York. There were a couple of kids who were pretty big-time players who we had our hands on that when their families sat down and discussed it and…I’m not in a position to argue too much about it.”

This comes at a time when St. John’s was continuing to make strides at attracting athletes nationwide.

Within the past four years, six dorm buildings have been built to offer housing to out-of-state athletes.

New baseball and softball fields were built, and the new soccer complex, Belson Stadium, is about to open for the use of both the men’s and women’s programs.

Recruits started arriving from all over the country. From Hawaii to New Hampshire, Florida to Washington, athletes saw something in St. John’s that attracted them to the campus as well as the city.

Now, the image of the World Trade Center crumbling before millions on television has been added to other images of the Big Apple – Radio City Music Hall, Madison Square Garden and Fifth Avenue.

Now one year later, Red Storm coaches may have to re-evaluate their philosophies on which players will fit in a New York state of mind. St. John’s has always catered to local recruits, but now, those recruits may want to get away from the city and play somewhere else.

“I think it depends on the individual,” Stone said. “Even in situations before 9/11, you get some West Coast kids that you recruit that are a perfect fit for New York and the East Coast and the distance.”

Recruiting may be an inexact science and it is sometimes based on potential.

The realization for St. John’s athletic teams is that the potential for a national recruiting base may be in trouble.

But there are coaches, like Stone, who think that recruiting may not be affected as badly as it could have been.

“I think maybe over the course of time that the way New York was portrayed will help recruiting,” Stone said. “People all over the country saw how New Yorkers dealt with the situation and the fact that they were so brave and strong about it. I think it was something that allowed the country to see what New York is all about.”

Jason Della Rosa is a senior journalism major who hopes that people don’t think that this column is as callous as it may seem. Send any comments or thoughts to [email protected]