By Cheney Slocum and Jamie Oberg
They sang “Happy Birthday” to her.
It was an evening full of clichés, of endings and new beginnings.
The Georgetown High School Varsity Swim Team holds an end-of-the year banquet each year. It marks the end of the seniors’ high school swimming careers and brings every other swimmer one year closer to the coveted position of being a “senior” on the team.
But for senior Mallory Barbosa, last Thursday was not only her last end-of-the-year banquet, it was also her 18th birthday.
Both milestones punctuated the fact that Barbosa now faces the imminent transformation from dedicated student-athlete in high school to just a student in college.
“Swimming to me was something you can’t want to take back because you spend so much time with the people you’re with that it just feels like a second home,” said Barbosa.
But the swimmer, who will be attending the University of Texas at Austin in the fall, is far from the only young athlete facing this tough transition.
According to an annual report by the NCAA, there were 853,965 senior high school student-athletes competing in the sports of football, basketball, baseball, men’s hockey and men’s soccer alone in 2012. That staggering number of young athletes competed for a total of 46,442 roster positions at NCAA member institutions for the next year.
For 81.6% of those young people, including Barbosa, their careers in organized athletics are over. They are forced to transition to college campuses or into their chosen field of work without a comfort of a sport family.
One such former athlete is Stephanie Marcu, a junior sociology major who participated heavily in volleyball, swimming, and track while at Dripping Springs High School. Marcu, whose father owns a volleyball club program in her hometown, says that while she didn’t try to get recruited in high school, she wishes she had in order to make her shift smoother.
“Transitioning to a non-athlete was one of the hardest things,” Marcu said. “In high school, I relied on sports as a competitive outlet, to occupy my free time, to build friendships, and as reason to work hard and have tangible accomplishments. Not participating in competitive sports, as I was accustomed to doing, really altered the structure of my daily life.”
One of the most blatant modifications in the life of former high school student-athletes is that they now longer are forced to partake in physical activity.
After years of spending upwards of twelve hours a week in a practice facility, many students struggle to physically cope with newfound time and freedom.
Barbosa said she is grateful that her sport, swimming, is commonly practiced by older athletes as well, and doesn’t have the limited timeline of other sports in the recreational sphere.
“Swimming is working a lot of muscles that you want to work when you’re older to keep your metabolism up and our muscles firm,” Barbosa explained. “It’s things like that that aren’t as detrimental on your joints and bones, as playing football or soccer.”
While recreational swimming, typically a solitary sport, undoubtedly has its physical benefits, Marcu encourages new “non-athletes” to pursue intramural and club sports in college if they are at all able.
“Not only do sports keep you fit, but they teach you discipline, perseverance, respect, and so much more,” said Marcu. “Sports gave me accomplishments that I was proud of and reasons to work hard and improve every day. You might as well continue paying as long as you have the capability and passion.”
Sophomore Flora Barrow said that one of her main problems as a college student involves the combination of laziness and a lack of motivation which she feels has stunted her potential to fully take advantage of her opportunities at UT. Barrow, who grew up in Chapel Hill, North Carolina participated in field hockey, lacrosse and swimming while she was in high school.
“Athletes are always structured and always have set schedules because they have to,” Barrow said. “And I think that it’s important to keep structure so that you can do what you really want to do instead of getting lost in the transition.”
While many former high school-student athletes don’t fully recognize the lessons they’ve learned from their participation in high school athletics until they step on campus, Barbosa said her time in the pool has already helped her deal with the challenges of university life.
“Swimming taught me that as bad as the race may be you have another chance to be better and nothing really stops moving,” Barbosa said. “I didn’t get accepted to the engineering school as a freshman at UT, but as devastated as I was in the beginning the reminder that everything keeps going is a positive reminder that I’ll get through it and swimming really taught me that.”