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Anticipative measures

With an eye toward potential scholarships, kids are beginning to play sports at an earlier age

Posted: August 10, 2009 10:21 p.m.
Updated: August 11, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Children are starting to play sports like soccer at the age of 4.

Scouts are scouring the grade-school ranks for potential.

The process of preparing a child to go after a college scholarship is starting earlier than ever.

In several cases, athletes commit to schools at younger ages than ever before, and in some occurrences, they leave high school early for college.

For Courtney Proctor, the drive toward soccer excellence started at the age of 6.

Less than a decade later, she was featured in a full-page spread in Sports Illustrated and committed to University of California, Los Angeles, before her junior year of home school had even begun.

Proctor, 15, started receiving letters and phone calls from colleges when she was 12 years old.

“A lot of girls like the attention they get from the recruiting process,” says Courtney’s mother, Sue. “Courtney is the absolute opposite. She is coach-driven, and she really likes the staff at UCLA. Plus, it’s close to home so that means we can go watch her, which is a plus.”

Proctor cannot officially commit to UCLA until Sept. 1, and she is not allowed to contact coaches until that date unless she visits the campus.

“I remember when we went to UCLA when she was 12,” Sue says. “She was so excited because they had a Panda Express and a Jamba Juice on campus. That’s when she decided to go there. The reasons are a little different now that she is older, but it’s kind of cool that it worked out that way.”

Proctor started playing soccer at the age of 6 when she was playing in the American Youth Soccer Organization, but by the time she was nine she had moved up to club soccer, playing on the U-11 Blazers.

“At first we were a little nervous about her playing with older girls,” Sue says. “The girls were a lot bigger than she was used to playing against, but it proved to be a great way for her to improve and to get her name out there because soccer isn’t like some other sports. Most recruiters don’t go to many team games, so the club team is where you get your name out there.”

One bonus to committing early for Proctor is a guaranteed scholarship, even if she gets injured.

“That’s something that is a great relief for us as parents,” Sue says. “Without that scholarship tuition would cost around $44,000 a year, which just isn’t really doable for a single-income family. It’s good to see that all her dedication from such a young age paid off.”

Trevor Bauer is a prime example of an athlete that found his calling at a young age and sped through the high school ranks, leaving Hart High before his senior season for a scholarship at UCLA.

He began thinking about getting a scholarship early in his high school career and always loved baseball.

In a way, he has been working toward a scholarship since he could barely walk.

“My first memory is playing baseball in the yard with my dad after he bought me this big red plastic bat,” Bauer says. “We had a field all set up, and if you hit it over the fence into the neighbor’s yard that was a home run.”

Bauer started pitching at the age of 8 when he got his first pitching coach. Two years later, he started working with Jim Wagner, with whom he still works after 8 years.

“Working with Jim Wagner has taught me more than just techniques,” Bauer says. “He has taught me a work ethic that my dad has helped enforce. They have both shown me that if I want to accomplish something then I have to work hard, and that anything you achieve comes through hard work.”

One of Bauer’s greatest accomplishments came during his first year with the Bruins, when he was named Pac-10 Pitcher of the Week.

The Valencia native recorded 12 strikeouts in a combined 13 1/3 innings, limiting the opposition to two runs and 10 hits in the two contests during the week of March 23-29.

“I started playing on a team when I was four or five, and I haven’t stopped ever since,” Bauer says. “I love it, and it has always been my passion so to be at the point where I’m playing where I’m playing is something that is great. I have no regrets about leaving school early. I had an opportunity, and I’m happy that I took it.”

Valencia High School shortstop Christian Lopes did not start playing baseball until he was eight years old, but even though he started later than most children he quickly caught up.

By the time he was 10 years old he received an invitation to be a part of the USA youth team, and he was playing year-round.

He passed on the chance to play in China with the team, but he did spend 12 days in Orlando for another tournament as his skills continued to evolve.

“We didn’t travel as much when Christian started playing ball, but we were still taking a lot of trip to places like Palm Springs,” says Lopes’ father, Jack. “He just really latched on to the game and he just kept playing more.”

Now heading into his junior year, Lopes and his family, which has spent tens of thousands of dollars to help Christian advance his career, are focused on locking down a scholarship as numerous schools have already shown interest.

“It’s not like we got Christian into baseball in the hopes that 10 years later he would get a scholarship, but with how much school costs these days, it sure would be nice,” Jack says. “We would love for him to get an education because with baseball it can all be over with one injury.”

Nini Loucks’ soccer career may be over, but her academic one isn’t.

The Canyon and University of Southern California graduate is currently working on her Master’s in occupational therapy after receiving a full-ride scholarship to USC.

She started playing soccer at the age of five in the American Youth Soccer Organization and began receiving letters from coaches early in high school when she was also playing on a club team.

“I always loved playing soccer,” Loucks says. “It’s something I did since I was a little kid, and there was never a time that I didn’t want to be playing soccer, and then it just turned into something that got bigger and bigger.”

Pat Valaika is one of the most recent Santa Clarita Valley athletes to receive a scholarship to a Division I school, signing with UCLA on Aug. 5.

The Hart High infielder still has a year of high school left, but he wanted to commit early so he could focus on his final year of high school and prepare for college.

His two older brothers both played at University of California, Santa Barbara.

“It’s kind of a relief to know where I’m going because I’ve seen my brothers go on to the next level, so it was something I had thought about for a while,” Valaika says.

Valaika is already hopeful that he will get playing time at UCLA during his freshman year, and he is training for the jump to the next level.

“I’ve always loved playing baseball,” Valaika says. “To get rewarded for that is really great.”


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