Editor’s note: This article is the first in a series of pieces highlighting Guam’s student-athletes who are playing collegiate sports. Through these articles, The Guam Daily Post will offer insight into islanders making the leap to the next level, offer in-depth feature stories on athletes’ experiences, and share some of the triumphs, challenges, and pitfalls experienced by students and their families.
This list of athletes playing college sports was compiled from article research and contacting sports federations. If you are an athlete from Guam on a university roster and your name does not appear on the list, it was unintentional.
Toward the end of this first article, Chris Parker, a graduate of John. F. Kennedy High School, shared his story of how choosing the wrong school negatively affected his college experience and left him with a mountain of debt. Parker played one season of football at North Park University and left owing over $30,000 in student loans.
It is important to note that five other Guamanians - none still with North Park's football program - played for coach Mike Conway and had different experiences than Parker. As part of this series, their stories will be covered.
With nearly 50 student-athletes competing at the next level, Guam’s representation in international collegiate sports has never been higher.
From breaking in at the community college level to NCAA Division I, Guam’s athletes who have made the leap to college have shown not only that dreams can become a reality if student-athletes put in the work and are willing to sacrifice, but that Guam athletes can hold their own against some of the best in the world.
“Guam is full of many talented athletes in all sports,” said Alschea Grape, who was a standout basketball player for the John F. Kennedy High School Islanders and will be resuming his career at the University of Makati once the coronavirus pandemic gets under control. “I've seen many basketball, football and rugby athletes all pursue their passion in playing in the next level.”
Not too long ago, leaving the island to pursue an education and play college ball was something many students dreamed of, but few actually did. In the past few years, as if a switch got flipped and the floodgates opened, Guam’s athletes have advanced to college sports, with the majority in any one division playing at the highest level of intercollegiate athletics.
Currently, there are 14 athletes from Guam playing in the NCAA D1 (this number reflects the two athletes competing at the highest level of men’s college rugby), six in NCAA D2 or the rugby equivalent, 12 in NCAA D3, five in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, four competing in the Philippines and Japan, and seven in junior college.
“At some point, other schools are going to try and jump on the Guam bandwagon …, ” said Farrah Douglas, the women’s rugby coach at Mount Saint Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Maryland.
In three years at the helm of MSMU rugby, Douglas has built a successful team with six Guamanians on its roster.
Granted, women’s rugby is a relatively new sport, but a combination of its popularity, the islanders’ high rugby IQ, its introduction at the middle school level, and the NCAA in the process of expanding from 23 to 40 teams, Guam has become a hotbed for female competition-ready collegiate rugby players.
"If I had a girl that was a good athlete, I’d make her focus on rugby and get her grades up," said Len Calvo, whose son, Matias Calvo, plays rugby at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire.
But if rugby isn’t your sport, regardless of finances, there exists plenty of opportunity for Guamanians to play at the next level. With athletic and merit-based scholarships and grants available, a little bit of research can go a long way to securing a college education.
A vast majority of NCAA programs are need-blind institutions and can cater to low-income families.
“A lot of people don’t know that if you get into Stanford (University), and your family makes less than $120,000 a year, your tuition is free, same thing with the Ivy League,” Len Calvo said.
If competing in the Ivy League or Stanford sounds impossible, it does not have to be, but it isn’t easy.
More important than an athlete’s ability to compete is getting excellent grades.
“The No. 1 way” to “get the best package possible is by doing well in school,” said Karen Fong Donoghue, owner and founder of The Rugger’s Edge, a Denver, Colorado-based consulting firm specializing in getting high school rugby players into college.
Knowing firsthand what it takes to leave Guam and compete in college, Grape said, “playing in the next level requires a lot of sacrifice and determination.”
"It’s possible to play in the next level, it all just depends on you. If you want it, you've got to put your mind and heart into it," he added.
If the boxes are all ticked, excelling at sports and academics, figuring out which college to attend can be daunting and needs to be researched before signing any paperwork.
When considering a college or university, a process that usually starts in the junior year of high school, students and families need to consider the following:
• Which school is the best fit academically?
• Which school is the best athletic fit in terms of time commitment and level of competition?
• What are the costs?
In general, the more prestigious the organization, conference, school, program and coach, the more time an athlete has to devote to the sport. For example, a student who decides to play NCAA D1 men’s basketball for the Duke University Blue Devils in the Atlantic Coast Conference under coach Mike Krzyzewski will eat, drink and sleep sports. At the other end of the spectrum, a high school graduate who opts to play junior college golf will have more time to focus on school, improve his or her game, and time to enjoy the complete college experience.
For the student-athlete, setting realistic goals, believing in one's ability, and not writing off playing at a two-year institution may be the best formula to playing college sports.
Community colleges, also referred to as junior colleges, offer the same core classes as universities, can offer high-level athletics, and give the student the opportunity to improve both academically and athletically.
Had Chris Parker known this before signing to play football for coach Mike Conway and the North Park University Vikings in Chicago, Illinois, an NCAA D3 program, he would have had a better college experience, played more downs, and not been left with over $30,000 in student loans. Before leaving North Park, Parker had been on a collision course with a nearly $200,000 unforgivable paperweight.
"You’re going to owe a (expletive) BMW i8 to your D3 school by the time you graduate," he said, referring to the luxury vehicle with a starting price of $147,500.
Parker, who played football for coach Allen Blend at John F. Kennedy High School, wishes he had never agreed to play football at NPU, a dismal program sporting a 14-46 record over six years.
“Right off the bat, I’m going to tell you to ‘go to a community college,’” said Parker, who completed his sophomore season at defensive tackle for the De Anza College Mountain Lions in Cupertino, California.
The whole reason why I transferred was because I was paying an arm and a leg to go to that school, and I realized I’m just going to that school to play football, he said.
“If you think you’re making it to the NFL from D3, you’ve got to think again,” he said, adding his goal is to play in the NFL or become a personal trainer with one of the league’s 32 teams.
Getting recruited by NPU “felt like a scam,” he said.
“I really do feel like they knew we weren’t knowledgeable about college sports, or college in general. I feel like they took advantage of that and they wanted to get our money to go to their school,” he added.
Until he learned NCAA D3 schools do not offer athletic scholarships, Parker said he thought NCAA D3 was “pretty big-time.”
He soon learned that was not the case.
At De Anza, “24 of my teammates just got (NCAA) D1 offers, just now, just this year,” he said.
"Every game, we have a D1 coach on our sideline. At one of our games, we had University of Alabama and Clemson University scouts," he added.
“Do your research,” Parker said. “Do your research on the school. Do your research on the coach. … If you don’t already have a full-ride offer for somewhere else, you should see if junior college interests you because I only pay like four grand to go to De Anza. It’s not that expensive."
"I just think the pros of a junior college significantly outweigh the cons of NCAA D3, D2, or NAIA," he said.
“In junior college, even if you don’t make remarkable stats, there’s always someone looking at junior college players, somewhere out there,” he added.