Nottingham High School has had its share of students go on to play college sports this past decade, with several of them earning scholarships to Division I programs. Track/cross country coach Melissa Persichetti, currently on sabbatical with two young children, watched as some of them struggled to make decisions, not knowing of what to look out for as they plotted their future.
So, on Jan. 8, Persichetti brought six former Northstars—who all are, or were, competing at the Division I level—back to the school library to conduct a symposium with current Nottingham athletes. Returning to their alma mater were track stars Jermaine Griffith (Rutgers), Boaz Madeus (Rutgers), Kenley Souffrant (Rider) and Grace Dwyer (Furman), and softball standouts Val Suto (Seton Hall) and Kristin Hallam (Hofstra).
The event turned out to be extremely successful. After each college student discussed subjects assigned to them by Persichetti for 10 minutes apiece, a Q&A session followed in small groups.
“I wanted to give current student-athletes an opportunity to learn and be inspired by students who were once in their shoes,” Persichetti said. “I want our current student-athletes to understand the aspects of playing in college as well as identify qualities that help achieve success. I believe it is important to recognize the success of Northstar alumni. Getting the alumni to come back and share was a perfect way to motivate current students.”
It apparently worked. Whether an athlete’s future is already decided or they are still looking for a college, the session provided solid lessons.
“The symposium was great and just what I think many athletes need to hear before taking that next step,” said basketball player Sara Haas, who will continue her career at Eastern University next year. “One topic that had the biggest impact on me was don’t be afraid to fail. I am one that always worries about failure, however, many of them said that in college you are going to have moments of failure or loss but it’s all a matter of how you respond and how you move on from it that counts.”
Junior track standout Dana Ridley is still undecided, but was happy to get some tips for when he finally arrives in college.
“It was very enlightening to hear each one speak on a subject that is very important in understanding what and how to get prepared for committing and attending a D1 college,” Ridley said. “In my opinion the biggest part of what I took from it was Kenley Souffrant talking about ‘greatness’ and how greatness is not just about coming in first but really working hard and earning respect for your team and coaches through hard work and dedication. All in all it was a great experience; actually knowing about half of the speakers and running beside two of them in track and field.”
Souffrant discussed “earning greatness with respect” and he tried to drive home three points—work hard and lead by example; sacrifice any activity or relationship that could prevent reaching greatness; and remember the journey is not only about one’s self, but their family, team, school, community and, if they so believe, God.
“Overall, I just wanted to express to them that greatness is not just about that big moment, but also about earning respect from others due to their hard work and their good influence in other’s lives,” said Souffrant, who has given motivational speeches to Nottingham students since his junior year through a Bible study group. He now conducts something similar on YouTube at Rider and his church.
“Going back was a great experience,” he said. “Those kids are amazing kids with great talents and good hearts. I truly believe in them, all they need is one opportunity that re-assures them there is hope in their circumstances and they will turn out fine.”
Dwyer discussed the recruiting process and what it was like, and how she finally made her decision.
“I wanted to show them the importance of being prepared; whether it is academics, practice, games or meets,” the distance running star said. “And the recruiting preparation is vital for success on and off the field, track or court. The student-athletes I talked to were awesome. I liked talking to them at a face-to-face level, especially at the breakout session.”
Suto, who recently completed her stellar collegiate career, talked about what preparation needs to take place in order to be ready for college. She emphasized that while being a great athlete is important, one must also be a good student if they hope to survive in college.
“College coaches love to see athletes that are great in the classroom,” Suto said. “Good habits in high school will become good habits in college and in life. I also wanted the students to understand that college is very different from high school and athletics is much more demanding mentally, physically and socially than anything they’ve ever had to deal with. Everyone on our panel can agree that they’ve had to deal with brand new problems, people and situations that they never even thought they’d have to encounter.
“I know I left college with many more life skills than some of my classmates because I was hit all at once with several curve balls and had to learn how to adjust quickly and effectively. I absolutely think that those Nottingham students can succeed in college as long as they are prepared to be challenged and overcome those challenges.”
Suto discussed the recruiting process with several Nottingham baseball players, and noted that, “They asked really good questions involving how to contact a college coach and how to put themselves out there to get a coach’s interest. All of them seemed serious about their future baseball and academic careers, which is awesome to see because I think they can really excel if they pursue that path.”
When it came to the Rutgers connection, Griffith talked about time management while Madeus discussed injuries. Griffith touched on how to manage time between athletics and academics and what time management skills are necessary to be a successful college athlete. Madeus talked about injuries—he is currently taking a medical redshirt—the support he gets from teammates and coaches and how he is able to deal with injuries.
Madeus explained his current situation and the rehabilitation process, but said, “the main thing I wanted to impress on the students is that in sports and in life adversity is inevitable. As someone who knows adversity all too well, I know that how you respond to it will make or break your situation. I decided not respond to my situation in defeat but to take a battle mindset going into every day. Not staying in the same place that I was yesterday. Approaching adversity with that mindset is more than a lesson for sports and injuries. It’s a life skill.”
He too, found the attendees eager to learn as witnessed by their feedback.
“I got some very good questions regarding college and a lot of the same questions I asked when I was in their shoes a couple years ago,” he said. “The level of their questions definitely showed where they had their eyes fixed upon.”
The day’s final speaker was Hallam, who gave her views on being part of a team, including how being part of a team helps as a student, what lessons it has taught, and what is the best thing about being part of a team. The Colonial Valley Conference’s all-time softball hits leader was glad to be part of it.
“I felt that speaking to current student-athletes was important because it is important to give back to where you came from,” Hallam said. “I remember being that age and not knowing what to do with college and sports, and it really was a stressful time. This was a great opportunity for kids to ask questions and be more comfortable with the college recruiting process. I think the most important thing that all of us touched on was time management. That is a big part of being a student-athlete, yet it will also help those who do not go on to play sports at the collegiate level.”
When approached by Persichetti to attend the symposium, all of the panelists jumped at the opportunity. Each felt that such a session was invaluable to student-athletes trying to find their way, and wished there was such a seminar when they were in high school.
“A lot of times students don’t get to truly understand all that goes into becoming a college athlete and all the responsibilities and challenges that will inevitably come with it,” Madeus said.
Suto added, “It’s one thing to visit colleges and try to listen to a coach or a player tell you their experience, but it’s another to hear it from people who went to the same high school as you and who had the same coaches you have.”
When it was over, Persichetti was amazed at how well the collegians got their points across.
“I was so impressed with the college kids,” she said. “They were open, honest and at the same time professional. They took the time to prepare; they talked about their experience while motivating current students do better. They were excited to be back at Nottingham, and shared how much love they have for Nottingham. They truly made the event a success. I literally got chills when I watched them speak.”