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Windermere Observer Tuesday, May 3, 2016 3 years ago

SIDELINE SCENE: Social media can compromise college scholarship offers

Local coaches warn their athletes about dangers of social media — and remind them that college coaches are watching.
by: Steven Ryzewski Senior Sports Editor

They came just one day apart: two different tweets, two different Bens, one important point to hammer home.

Ocoee football coach Ben Bullock, through his personal Twitter account (@Coach_Bullock) April 10, and Windermere Prep boys basketball coach Ben Wilson, through the team’s account (@LakersHoops_WPS) April 9, reminded their athletes about the dangers of social media.

Steven Ryzewski

Both coaches retweeted an image of a compilation of recent tweets from Division I college assistant coaches, each lamenting how a potential recruit’s social media had ended his recruitment. 

Tweeted Penn State offensive line coach Herb Hand: “Dropped another prospect this AM due to his social media presence. … Actually glad I got to see the ‘real’ person before we offered him.”

Duke football assistant coach Derek Jones: “Our jobs depend on the young men that we recruit. Your social media pages say a lot about your character, discipline & common sense. #Ap2w.”

This is a reality. Kids are losing opportunities that can change their lives because they aren’t handling social media well. 

To be fair, practicing “good social media” is no small feat and somewhat vague. Remember that this — social media — is something that’s really only existed in its current form for the past decade or so, so there’s still a lot of discussion to be had on what exactly practicing “good social media” means. 

But, although it may not be fair to hold 16-year-old kids to a higher standard than, say, their uncle who posts vulgar political memes to his Facebook, that’s the reality. 

As Bullock explained to his young players at a recent meeting, every time a sought-after high school recruit tweets, there is an audience — unlike Uncle Larry.

This is a reality. Kids are losing opportunities that can change their lives because they aren’t handling social media well. 

“It’s like they have a national press conference at their fingertips each time they press ‘send,’” Bullock said.

High-school coaches, of course, don’t want to see the promising futures of their young stars compromised by an ill-advised tweet. They also want their players focused on the game — and not trash-talking on Twitter or other distractions — during the season. 

So, when Wilson found out from several college coaches — visiting Windermere Prep to scout the Lakers’ talented lineup — that college programs were beginning to ban social media during the season, a lightbulb went off.

“I was like, ‘You know what, if they can do it at that level, then why aren’t we doing it here?’” Wilson said. “It’s more just to protect themselves.”

How well did that work? The Lakers are being fitted for championship rings after winning the FHSAA Class 3A State Title. And, although the dominant trio of Parker Davis, David Nickelberry and Xion Golding probably had a little more to do with that than the lack of tweets and Instagram posts, the latter certainly wasn’t allowed the opportunity to compromise the former.

Besides, when Wilson is coaching a player such as Nickelberry, whose college scholarship offers are pouring in in recent weeks from a who’s who of college programs, the last thing he wants is for the dynamic forward to be held back by social media.

“These coaches are stalking social media accounts of high school stars way more than we think,” Wilson said.

He’s right — just ask Bullock.

Bullock was an assistant coach at the Division III level for Brockport and Hartwick and recruited regularly. Accordingly, he has insight into what college coaches — especially at a smaller school with more limited funds for scholarship dollars — are thinking.

“They don’t want to bring problems onto campus,” Bullock said. “I was not going to go in front of the (administration) of a college to vouch for you if I saw things on there that our program felt were not our core values.”

There are many talented athletes here in West and Southwest Orange. I look forward to keeping our readers up to date about the great things they are going to do at the college level.

Here’s hoping a status update doesn’t get in the way.

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