What it takes to take the next step

Wolverines visit Fort Lewis College Ray Dennison Field

After celebrating their Continuation this week, the 8th-grade class at Bayfield Middle School is enjoying their final summer before high school, but many of the student-athletes will soon begin preparing for their first year of high school sports — and some of them are already setting goals that go beyond that.

Those Wolverines who hope to play competitive sports after high school were given some insight into what it takes to earn scholarships and compete at the next level when a group of 8th-grade athletes took a field trip to Fort Lewis College to meet with personnel from the athletic department and tour some of the facilities there.

The field trip, which was sponsored by BMS coaches Doug Cuddie and Stephanie Dennison, was intended to help student-athletes identify which courses they should take in high school, what types of colleges and athletic programs are available, and what other factors they need to consider if they hope to pursue an athletic career after graduating from BHS.

“I’m glad that you’re here. It’s a great first step towards these opportunities,” Fort Lewis College Athletic Director Travis Whipple said when he welcomed the students.

Travis Whipple talks to students

He began his presentation by describing the different divisions offered at the college level — from junior college to NAIA to NCAA Divisions 1, 2 and 3 — and explained that Fort Lewis competes in NCAA Division 2. It is important to know the difference in the divisions because high school student-athletes who hope to compete in the NCAA are required to register with the NCAA Eligibility Center (formerly known as the Clearinghouse) while they are still in high school.

“If you want to be an NCAA student-athlete you’ll want to get into the Eligibility Center,” Whipple urged.

The AD at Fort Lewis also encouraged the students to participate in a variety of high school sports, attend summer camps, play on AAU and club teams, and create Hudl accounts that will allow them to produce and share highlight reels with college coaches.

“All of those are great opportunities to get exposure,” Whipple said. “And more and more they’re looking at Hudl as a way to evaluate athletes because it is so accessible.”

“Get close to your coaches at Bayfield High School because they’re going to be the first point of contact,” BMS Dean of Students Kelly Erickson added.

Travis Whipple walks with students.

Sharpening their skills on the field or court won’t be enough, however, to ensure an athlete gets recruited to play college sports.

“You also have to excel in the classroom,” Whipple said, noting that athletes who are not top students in middle school still have time to turn things around and get their grades where they need to be if they hope to get recruited to play college sports.

“Just because you’re not there at the moment doesn’t mean you can’t be,” he said.

Students asked if colleges place more emphasis on grades or standardized test scores, and Whipple said that the ACT and SAT became optional at most schools during COVID. That is still the case at Fort Lewis, but some colleges are beginning to require the ACT or SAT again, and Whipple encouraged students to find out what is required at the schools they are interested in attending.

“We look a lot at your GPA and how you are performing every day,” he reported, “But you’ll want to understand if that (test score) is an important thing for the school you’re looking at.”

Group gathers on the football field

High school grades and test scores can also lead to scholarships that can be used in conjunction with athletic awards to cover as much of the cost of college as possible.

“We have a lot of academic merit scholarships, and athletic aid can be stacked on top of that,” Whipple reasoned. “So you can leave here debt-free. That is important to us.”

It is expected that student-athletes will continue to perform well in the classroom once they get to college as well. In addition to finishing in the top half of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference in their respective sport each year, Skyhawk teams are also expected to carry a 3.25 GPA and boast an 85% retention rate (this year they achieved 92%). The teams are also expected to perform 3,000 hours of community service.

Whipple said students should learn what the expectations are at schools they may want to attend, and he encouraged them to not just base their choice of college on a coach or a major — but to also look at the values of the school and the program. He also said it is a good idea to check out the campus and the community.

“Take your visits,” Whipple urged. “I think it is great to explore colleges and get a feel for the entire experience, and I think you’re doing a great thing today checking out our campus.”

He also encouraged them to go to the primary source when they identify a college or athletic program they are interested in.

FLC Soccer players talk to students

“Hearing directly from the current students about their experience is gold,” Whipple suggested.

The Wolverines who made the trip were able to visit with a couple of Skyhawk student-athletes about their own recruiting journeys, and FLC soccer players Elizabeth David and Ellie Cook both echoed Whipple by advising the students to make visits and ultimately choose a campus and community they wanted to be a part of for four or more years.

The duo also said they wished they would have had an opportunity to visit a college athletic department at such a young age.

“This is so cool,” David said.

“It’s good that they use the college to their advantage,” Cook agreed.

Students visit AD on the football field.

After visiting with Whipple, the students toured the practice fields and some of the other facilities. Some parts of the department were under construction, but Whipple was excited to talk about the new 10,000 sq. ft. athletic performance center that is in the works and modifications to the training room that are taking place this summer.

He concluded by inviting the Wolverine student-athletes to return to Fort Lewis as their own high school careers evolve.

“Almost every one of our programs offers a camp in the summertime,” Whipple stated. “If you’d like to come to a game, we’d love to have you.”

Group tours the practice field


group photo in front of a stone wall


Three girls pose for a photo


Whipple walks with boys.


Students in front of crow's nest.