For many of Guam’s top high school athletes, the path to college and even pro ranks can be a severe challenge. But those who hurdle the unique obstacles of launching their athletic journey from a small island many time zones away from mainland U.S., and hours by plane from any Asian metropolis, can reap the rewards of a college education, international experience and even a shot at professional sports.
Our youths have to be mentally strong, persistent and able to learn from their trials and failures in order to succeed. Many of our top athletes have the ability to play in the college ranks, but many don’t know what opportunities exist – from NCAA Division I to junior college levels – or even how to begin to get there.
Don’t wait until senior year
Many student-athletes who waited until the end of their senior year to begin the process find most of the doors that once were open are now closed.
“You have to start early and be prepared to take that next step,” said Jacob Dowdell, Guam High School football head coach.
To address the challenges high school athletes face on Guam, Dowdell recently founded 67One Recruiting. The nonprofit organization aims to help prepare athletes for the physical demands of college sports, as well as teach parents and athletes about the college recruitment process and related tools available to them on Guam.
67One Recruiting brought in coach and trainer John Bankhead to Guam in July to help train local prep athletes.
Bankhead said that coming from a small island such as Guam can present its obstacles, but made it clear that “it doesn’t matter where you are from. And there are opportunities out there for you in sports ... more importantly, to get an education.”
Bankhead said Guam athletes might have to work harder because they have less exposure than their stateside counterparts.
“You have to want this on your own,” he said.
Guam national teams offer an entry point
For ill-informed parents who find little support from their high schools, it can be difficult to know where to begin.
Guam National Basketball Confederation President EJ Calvo said that for most kids on island, the process starts with their sport’s national team program.
"The exposure of playing against elite competition and the ability to network are invaluable," Calvo said. “Being able to see and adjust to the speed and physicality of the game they will see in college is important.”
Many local federations are doing more to bring certified coaches and training to the island, in addition to having their junior athletes compete internationally.
However, some sports on island may require more initiative and investment from athletes, such as networking with college coaches and attending summer camps and showcases in the continental U.S.
Use social media and online networking sites
With social media at their disposal, and the ability to network with coaches through online prep profile sites, Guam’s up-and-coming athletes have more resources than ever.
But no matter what the sport, it “starts with the classroom and getting an education,” Calvo said. “The first thing a college coach will look at is your grades.”
As more athletes find success, there is more exposure – not just for the island and the elite athletes it can produce, but also for athletes to inspire the youth to follow in their footsteps. A good example is women’s rugby, which has seen a handful of players moving on to NCAA Division I and Division II programs.
After you make the leap, keep pushing yourself
Once athletes get to college, they face a whole new set of challenges.
Besides adapting to the routine of early-morning weight room sessions, daily practices, classes and homework, many simply get homesick.
Cooper Paulino, a 2018 Father Duenas Memorial School graduate who now plays baseball at NCAA DIII Menlo College, said his first year was tough.
“Probably the biggest challenge was me being all alone out there," Paulino said. "I had to realize that the only person that can push myself is me. I always kept that in mind."
“I learned that it was all about heart. If you know that you want to accomplish something, you just got to go out there and give it your all every day,” Paulino said.
Paulino was recently named to the all-star team for the Palm Springs Collegiate Summer Baseball League.
Opportunities in Asia and Oceania – and on Guam
Guam athletes are also finding they can stoke their competitive fire closer to home at colleges in the Philippines, Australia and New Zealand – or even by staying on island and getting a scholarship to play sports at the University of Guam.
UOG currently fields men’s and women’s basketball and soccer teams, and has become a landing spot for many former high school stars.
Doug Palmer, UOG athletic director, sees athletics as an important path to a college education. Palmer hopes to expand the UOG athletics program to men’s baseball, and beach volleyball, in 2020.
“We want to have a good variety of sports for our student-athletes,” Palmer said.
Calvo, Dowdell and Palmer agreed that for all prep athletes looking to play sports in college, the ultimate benefit is the opportunity to get an education.
“It’s all about getting an education, and if basketball or sports can help get them there, even better,” Calvo said.