Local athletes adjust to the balance of school, athletics

By Steve Smith
Posted 6/21/22

This is part three, the final part of a three-story series. The first part introduced the athletes and the second discussed academic support at their chosen schools. We’ve spent the last couple of …

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Local athletes adjust to the balance of school, athletics


This is part three, the final part of a three-story series. The first part introduced the athletes and the second discussed academic support at their chosen schools.

We’ve spent the last couple of weeks with former high-school athletes as they talk about their adjustments to college athletics - everything from more intense practice routines to being responsible for their clean clothes.

To wrap up our series, the newly minted college athletes talk about how to balance their athletic life with their new freedoms and the purpose of going to college in the first place - their education.

Most think they made a good choice.

That delicate balance

Vershon Brooks went from Brighton High School to college football at Luther College in Iowa.

“Balancing life with academics and athletics in college was tricky at first,” he said. “You have to look at your schedule and plan ahead of when you’ll get things, like eating, laundry, cleaning and homework, done. You’ll find a routine around your classes and training with the team. It just becomes second nature.”

Former Brighton and Frederick High School pitcher Chase Prestwich, who’s playing collegiately at Northwestern State University in Louisiana, said a lot of people don’t think about that balance of life, academics and athletics.

“But it’s really hard,” he said. “I have to really plan out my days and just squeeze in time for things like eating, doing laundry, etc. I have to take advantage of every bit of free time I get because I don’t get much.”

In the case of Izayah Elize, former Frederick High School basketball player and now a collegiate player at Eastern Wyoming College in Torrington, Wyoming, it was “hard and scary being by yourself.”

“But once you get in a routine and schedule you realize it’s not that hard,” he said.

His high-school classmate, Ryan Chacon, who is running cross country at Butler Community College in Kansas, agreed.

“Balancing daily chores and things is difficult,” he said. “But if you make a schedule every week and stick to it, you’ll be fine. Either a team study time will be put into play or making a time to do things.”

Emma Kulbida, who attended Stargate School, swam for Legacy High School and is swimming at Carnegie Mellon in Pennsylvania, said balancing her academic, athletic and other needs was difficult.

“Managing the rigorous course loads that CMU has to offer is extremely challenging by itself and competing at a high athletic level on top of that makes it so much harder,” she said. “However, having set practice times forces you to keep somewhat of a schedule, and being a high-level athlete makes you prioritize sleep and nutrition, which helps with school as well.”

Brighton High School’s Eli Bowman, who played football at the South Dakota School of Mines, said balancing all of necessary things in school was tough - on occasion.

“But it’s something I’ve gotten used to,” he said. “Whether it’s when to do laundry or managing my relationship with my girlfriend, it all took some adjusting and figuring out what works best for me, my schedule and my health. Ultimately, school has to be my No. 1 priority, and I understand that.”

Bowman’s classmate, Jespyn Bishop, who is playing water polo at McKendree University in Lebanon, Illinois, split the difference.

“I wouldn’t say it has been too difficult, but it hasn’t been easy,” he said. “It honestly all depends on the classes you take. My first semester, none of my classes was extremely hard, but I just had a lot of work. So I ended up scheduling my week to where I could get everything done and still be able to go to bed early enough to be able to get up and go to morning practices. I also have a work study on campus at the library, which I am able to work while being able to do homework. So normally I get a lot of my homework done then.”

Bishop said he tried to plan for other needs a few days ahead of time “which helps me with not having any conflicts.” His second semester was an off-season for water polo.

“I get done with all my classes at 12, and then I have practice Tuesday-Thursdays from 1-3, then weights from 4-5 Tuesdays and Thursdays,” he said. “After that the rest of the day is mine. I normally try to get all my homework done by 10 and then leave two hours to do whatever I want. I normally leave store runs to the weekends because it’s easier to get everything all at once.”

Adding structure

Erica Derby, who took her soccer skills from Stargate School to Northeastern Community College in Nebraska, said it hasn’t been hard to balance her daily tasks.

“Playing soccer adds structure to my day. I have to be at practice and the games. So all my classes and tasks I do revolve around that,” she said. “If my classes conflict with soccer, I either can take it fully online or come up with a solution with my coach.”

When she comes home, she helps with cooking meals and the laundry.

“So coming to college and having to do my own laundry wasn’t a big change,” Derby said. “Our cafeteria is open at certain times, so I make sure I can eat during those times. I do my laundry on the weekend. I don’t have any classes, and I have extra time.”

Gerardo Caldera, who graduated from Adams City High School and went on to play football at Waldorf University in Iowa, said his ability to balance all things college wasn’t too hard.

“Maybe when I first got here it was a hassle. But once you know the flow of things and you play around with your schedule, you can figure out when to do what at a certain time,” Caldera said. “For example, I may not always get breakfast or lunch at our café. But we have a thing called a `Warrior Crossing.’ It’s like a little store where you can get some quick snacks and some quick sandwiches. As for laundry you could do it at night while you’re doing assignments and homework, so you can pass time while doing laundry. But right after practices, everyone goes and eats dinner at our cafeteria.”

Riverdale Ridge alum Dakota Pruitt, who played baseball at Otero Junior College in southern Colorado, said it was easy to find that balance.

“You just have to find a routine and understand that you’re completely in control of your actions, so you have to make sure you’re doing everything you can to make you comfortable and successful,” he said.

Stargate School graduate Madison Roecker, who is cheerleading at Nebraska Wesleyan, said her combination of experience in sports, clubs, academics and holding down a job “helped to prepare me to manage my schedule now in college.”

The overall experience

Brooks, the Brighton High School grad and Luther College football player, said he found no surprises.

“The experience overall is what I expected, that being time management with school and chores and your responsibilities to the team,” he said. “What I didn’t expect was how much I would miss home and the people that made it home.”

Brooks former Brighton classmate Bowman said his experience at the South Dakota School of Mines wasn’t what he thought it would be.

“I knew sports would be hard, so that wasn’t a huge surprise,” Bowman said. “I underestimated how difficult school would be and how much work is involved. I didn’t think I’d be able to make such good friends as well. We all have to rely on each other to keep going, though, so it brings us all together. I’ve made some really good friends already.”

McKendree University’s water polo player Bishop said he doesn’t regret his decision at all.

“College athletics are definitely a different atmosphere but totally worth it at the end of the day,” he said.

“I didn’t expect it to be this busy,” said Northwestern State University in Louisiana’s Prestwich. “But overall, it has been good and much like what I expected. I didn’t really know what to expect about living on my own, but I like being responsible for things myself.”

Frederick alum Elize he knew what he was getting into.

“It’s been a good experience,” he said. “ I have grown as a basketball player overall, and that’s all I can ask for.”

Stargate soccer standout Derby said the experience was what she expected ... and better.

“I have met some amazing friends on the soccer team that I probably wouldn’t have met if I didn’t play,” she said. “I have been able to take classes that are giving me insight to future career options. I work at the basketball games by helping take stats and go to school events that are held to be involved.”

Frederick alum Chacon said the experience at Butler Community College in Kansas was what he was expecting.

“As long as you stick to your goals and be smart with time management you will strive,” he said. Maturing fast is a key to so say `survive’ college. If you take advantage of your resources and be mature about things, the goals you make will be closer than ever before.”

Former Legacy swimmer Kulbida said she knew the experience would be a challenge.

“But it was way more difficult than I expected,” she said. “However, being around peers who have similar drive and determination to succeed has been really helpful. It pushes you to reach a higher level and be the best version of yourself that you can be.”

Riverdale Ridge alum Pruitt said the experience was about what he figured, too.

“I expected to find myself in a position where I have to grind to ensure I get to stay,” he said. “But I wouldn’t change it for the world. I get to play the sport I love most every day.”

Adams City alum Caldera said the experience was what he thought, but more so.

“It has also opened up a lot to be grateful for everything in life as well,” he said. “Sometimes, you have to take it in that you’re a part of that small percentage of student athletes that move on to play at the next level.”

In closing

Caldera had one parting piece of advice.

“If you’re going to play a different sport, make sure you’re willing to lose some playing time in some sports. For example, I played baseball in the spring for Waldorf but I am losing spring ball and learning my playbook for football to play another sport,” he said. “Make sure if you’re going to play something else, it’s because you love playing that sport.”

“I am grateful to my high-school coach, Meaghan Walsh, for starting our cheer program and guiding me to get where I am today,” said Stargate School graduate Madison Roecker.“I am enjoying my time here at Nebraska Wesleyan and love our cheer team.”

“Playing football in college is the best decision I could’ve made,” Bowman said. “As much work as it is, college football has already been a blast and has made me a better person.”


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