By: Hannah Nelson, NECC Student-Specialist
Being a collegiate athlete is something that very few get to enjoy in life. It is a privilege and an incredible opportunity to be able to represent your school for four more years after high school. Millions of people tune in to watch events like March Madness, the College Football National Championship, or various rivalry games such as UNC versus Duke. However, what most people don’t realize is the competition doesn’t drop off after Division I athletics. Often, Division III gets overlooked because of the stereotypical assumptions that the skills, abilities and dedication of its athletes are not as close to the upper level.
But that simply isn’t the case.
“What I enjoy about being a DIII athlete is just being able to play the game I worked my whole life on, at a high level,” said New England College’s Calvin Cheek. “[I enjoy] being part of a team and a winning culture, along with just being able to say I’m a student-athlete, which there are plenty of people around the world who can’t do the same.”
According to the NCAA, there are currently more than 460,000 student-athletes, with 190,900 of those in DIII. While this may seem like a lot, when considering the number of high schools offering sports across the world, very few are able to compete in college.
“Sometimes [Division III] doesn’t seem to be taken as serious as higher level athletics,” said NEC’s Rene Hudson. “Sometimes people think all that matters is the level of the school you play at, when in reality playing at any level is a true blessing.”
Hudson and Cheek know what it is like to play at an elite level. Cheek led the nation (DI, DII, DII) in steals per game (4.25) as well as overall this season (119). Hudson’s 84 threes this season ranked 6th in the nation, and she became the 20th player in DIII to hit 300 career threes; the senior guard also became the all-time leading scorer for the Pilgrims.
“Most people don’t know that even though we play Division III, it doesn’t mean that the competition is going to be bad,” said Eastern Nazarene’s Garrett Crandell. “Many schools have players that could’ve gone to any division.”
College athletics isn’t only about playing to win, many play for the opportunity to earn a degree while playing the game they love. DI and DII teams are allowed to award athletic-based scholarships to their athletes, something that is not available at the DIII level.
“Your academics in high school and college matter so that you can get a scholarship to help financially,” said Elm’s Regina LeBlanc. “DIII schools aren’t allowed to give athletic scholarships, so you really have to keep your grades up.”
ENC’s Stevie Orton added, “most of us have jobs because there’s not a lot of financial help from schools in terms of sports grants, so we have to work to make money on top of being an athlete and a student.”
In a video shared by Dean Athletics, senior guard Jordan Booker, who was one of two student athletes across DI, DII, DIII to average at least 26 points and 7 assists per game, was told he won the NECC Player of the Year while at his off-campus job.
“Interestingly enough, a lot of people don't understand that we don't get much funding from the school at all,” noted NEC’s Kyle Clements. “At least for soccer, the majority of the funds we get go towards meals and transportation to away games. We have to pay for cleats, jackets, bags, and training kits ourselves. We are able to cut the cost down through fundraising and being partnered with Adidas, but it isn't anywhere close to being ‘given’ to us.”
NEC’s Molly Bieksha noted that while access to the same type of funding is not there, “Division III athletes put in just as much work as Division I and II athletes. We also must put in more of our own conditioning methods for what we think will work best to prepare us for the season as there are more restrictions on the coaching staff's ability to mandate things.”
While most DIII schools do not have the financial funds of most DI and DII schools, these larger institutions are often missing out on something smaller schools can offer.
“I enjoy being a Division III athlete because of my school and environment,” said ENC’s Ricky Shearman. “I really enjoy the small school setting and togetherness and support fellow DIII athletes give to each other.”
The small community feeling that these DIII schools can provide for student-athletes makes a difference on and off the field, especially with the demands that come with being a college student.
“Playing in DIII is just like any other division’s college sport, you still have the same amount of homework on top of practices, trying to have a good sleep schedule, eating habits and maintain somewhat of a social life,” said NEC’s Connor Morin. “The main thing that is challenging is perfecting time management. Once I figured out how to plan ahead and not stress about things, I was able to enjoy everything more.”
Fellow NEC student-athlete Rachel Senechal added, “it gets tricky when practice/games interfere with classes or study time. This can be frustrating, but I always seem to figure a way to balance everything.”
This balance is key to the student-athletes who decide to take advantage of the opportunity to be involved in more than just their particular sport.
“Being a DIII athlete allows me the opportunity to play two sports, while maintaining my academics and getting involved in extracurricular activities,” noted NEC’s Stephen Fama.
With this opportunity comes responsibility, as noted by ENC’s Noah Cheney, “balancing time with classes and athletics is definitely the hardest part of being a DIII athlete. Also, if you want to be involved in any type of extra-curricular activities with your school, you must balance those with schoolwork and your athletics. That leaves your social life as one of your lowest priorities. Hanging out with friends and outings of that type really fall and it becomes extremely important to manage your time well if you want to excel in all aspects of your college experience.”
While it may seem daunting to juggle all that comes with college life, Orton noted she is better because of it, “What would I say to someone wanting to come to DIII? COME! Anytime you have the opportunity to play a sport at the next level, do it. It teaches you so many life lessons, you’ll be a better person for it and you will never regret it.”
NEC’s Giuliana Kevlin and Elms’s Sarah Guerin share the same sentiment, along with their fellow student-athletes, that they truly play for the love of the game.
“I think that something most people don’t know about Division III athletes is that we truly love the sport. We put countless hours into having the ability to perform at our best, and sometimes those efforts can go unnoticed. We don’t reap the same rewards as some of the other divisions, but we have the same amount of passion and heart as anyone else competing,” stated Kevlin.
Guerin added, “We are playing because we love the sport, not because we are getting money from the school to go there and play.”
Division III is a great option for those athletes who are looking to get everything they possibly can out of their college experience, but only for those who are willing to put in the necessary effort.
“There are a lot of ups and downs, and if do not really love the sport then it’s going to be tough to get through all of that,” said Elm’s Sarah Clark, “but if you are passionate and care about the sport you want to play you should do it. Just make sure that you are ready to buckle down and focus because there is a lot of work on and off the court that you have to put in to be an athlete in college.”
To those who are considering whether or not to join the DIII community, each student-athlete shared why they chose DIII.
“I chose to play DIII soccer because NEC made the most sense financially and it was a place where I knew I would be given my fair opportunity to play. I was happy to be playing as a freshman here even though I probably could have played elsewhere. Being able to play in every single game of every season I had was great, and at another school, I may not have had that same opportunity,” said Clements.
“I chose Division III athletics because I wanted to keep my pure love for the game alive. I wanted to play soccer as well as enjoy my time as a college student-athlete. These were the absolute best four years of my life,” said Bieksha.
“I chose Division III because I knew I wanted to exhaust every aspect of a campus life and be involved in as much as I could. New England College specifically has allowed me to truly be involved in everything I have wanted to be involved in,” said Kevlin. “I am beyond grateful to have the opportunity to play collegiately. But I am also grateful to be able to look at the past three years and know that I have been an active member of the New England College community and the NECC.”
“I chose Division III because I wanted to be able to play and make a change and I knew at a higher level I would either ride the pine or not be able to make a name for myself. I had something to prove coming out of high school. I was told I couldn’t so I wanted to prove that I could,” said Hudson.
“I picked Eastern Nazarene because I saw my best opportunity to play the sport I loved while receiving a good education. It also helped me grow into a more respectable man. I also had more opportunity for jobs which was a huge reason I picked ENC,” said Crandell. “If you like the school, don’t think about what division it is, think of the college experience you truly want, where you feel like you will be happiest and get the best education. My parents always told me, you can’t play basketball forever.”
“I chose Division III because I felt like it was the best opportunity for me to succeed academically and athletically,” said Shearman. “There are a lot of things I enjoyed about it, such as a tight knit community that most every DIII school has.”
“I chose D3 because I really enjoyed the way my current coach approached me and explained what NEC was about. Unlike other coaches that scouted me, Ben Master was the first coach to talk to me in person and he also stayed for full games. He told me what he liked about my style of play but also told me what I needed to improve on. It just felt like a comfortable fit,” said Senechal.
“I decided that I wasn’t done playing baseball and wanted to try college sports. I couldn’t have been happier with the results after winning a regional championship last year as well as meeting some of the best people in my life. DIII baseball has given me the opportunity to compete, learn and have fun in college and I am so glad I chose to do it,” said Morin.
“I chose DIII because those were the only schools that reached out to me and either way, I wanted to focus more on my education than basketball. Basketball is important to me, but my future is more important to me and that’s what I needed to focus more of my attention on in college,” said Clark.
“I chose to play DIII because I wanted to continue to play basketball and study to become a nurse. The DIII school I chose gave me that opportunity to do both. When I went to visit my school, I could just see myself going there and fitting right in. I don’t regret the decision I made,” said LeBlanc.
“I chose DIII because Eastern Nazarene College (ENC) gave me an opportunity to continue my basketball career past high school. ENC gave me a platform to compete at a high level and to make lifelong friendships on and off the court. Continuing my basketball career at ENC also led to the completion of my bachelor’s degree. All of which couldn’t have happened if I didn’t choose a DIII school,” said Cheney. “If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing. DIII sports have had such a positive impact on my life and I can’t thank all the coaches who have influenced me to become not only a better athlete, but a better person throughout my time as a collegiate athlete.”
“I had interest from other schools at higher levels but I didn’t have any offers, so I settled for New England College, who I originally never even heard of, and now looking back turns out it may have been the best decision for me to make to play at the next level,” said Cheek. “Never let anybody tell you that you can’t do anything or you’re too small, not quick enough, not fast enough, there’s no such thing! You put that work in [and] you will see the results you want over time, it’s as simple as that.”
“I chose DIII because it is where I was meant to be. I had previously played at a JUCO and had gotten season ending injuries both years I was there. I was also really far away from home and just wasn’t as successful or as happy as I wanted to be. I was contacted by my coach and when I came on a visit to the school, it just felt right. It felt like this was where I was meant to be, and I can confidently say that after my first year here I made the right decision,” said Orton.
“I chose to play DIII because it gives me the chance to focus on my academics but also continue to play basketball. Most DIII schools are small and that is another reason why I chose Elms College. I feel like I have more opportunities to be involved with the school and athletics by being a part of a smaller school,” said Guerin.
“I chose DIII because out of all the schools that were looking at me and I was looking at, NEC was the best fit for me and it had a family-like environment, considering I teamed up with my brother,” said Fama.
ABOUT THE NECC
The NECC began competition in the 2008-09 academic year and current member institutions compete across 15 sports. The NECC membership focuses on providing athletic competition among institutions that share similar academic aspirations and are committed to the importance of the total educational experience for students engaged in sports. Current members include Bay Path University, Becker College, Dean College, Eastern Nazarene College, Elms College, Lesley University, Mitchell College and New England College.