By Emma Kolick.
As halftime nears and the football players head towards the locker room, the crowd temporarily leaves their seats to look for various friends. The award-winning NRHS marching band walks onto the field to prepare for their upcoming performance, and the line for concessions begins to grow. For the vast majority of the senior student-athletes, this classic Friday night lights scene is where their athletic careers come to a close. Some of these students, however, will be lucky enough to continue this experience into college.
“The dream is to be in the WNBA,” said senior Taiyier Parks, who will be playing basketball at Michigan State University, a Big 10 Division I school. Playing in college is the first step to making that dream a reality. Parks has been on the Lady Bears varsity basketball team since freshman year, but is sitting out this year due to a knee injury.
Though numerous schools approached her about playing for them, her heart has been set on MSU since she was thirteen years old. “I was in eighth grade when I took my first visit there, and as soon as I walked on campus, I knew it was my place,” she said. She feels North Royalton has given her countless opportunities, and going on to college will only increase her talent and maturity.
While she credits multiple people for her love of basketball, she says her family has been her ultimate inspiration. “My family is very basketball-orientated. My oldest brother [Omari Spellman] is currently in the NBA, and he thought it’d be cool if I gave it a try, and it kind of took off from there,” she said. While her family has motivated her throughout her athletic career, she feels excited to live on campus and to be able to prove what she is capable of. Along with this, Parks feels the high-level competition she has experienced has enhanced her skills and prepared her to compete collegiately both in and out of the classroom.
Carson Mroczka shares this perspective regarding the importance of college sports. After playing football for nine years, Mroczka will be continuing his athletic career at Heidelberg University, while pursuing a major in Elementary Education.
He is excited to compete collegiately, as he will have a chance to prove himself to a new set of people, and feels Royalton and its coaches have prepared him. “All the coaches, especially Coach Ciulli, have pushed me to become a better player and a better person as well,” he said. “They’ve been hard on me, but only because they care. They’ve for sure prepared me for the next level.”
Although these athletes give credit to their coaches for their success, the students’ personal effort and talent have largely contributed to where they are today. “I think our coaches have done a nice job getting people seen and getting them chances to play in college,” said Bo Kuntz, North Royalton City Schools’ Athletic Director. Part of Kuntz’s ability to prepare students comes from working as an athletic director for fifteen years and a college basketball coach for twenty-five years, which he believes helped prepare him when dealing with students who hope to compete collegiately. “However, if you’re talented enough, you’ll be seen by college coaches. This will get you your opportunity at the next level.”
Though upperclassmen tend to contemplate whether they will play college sports more than younger students, Kuntz encourages students of all ages to consider competing collegiately. This decision is already on the mind of freshman Kylie Walker, who wrestles for NRHS. She has demonstrated her ability in athletics early on and hopes to be able to participate in a wrestling team during college. Walker has developed a passion for this sport and hopes to continue it in college, as she feels it has taught her endurance, loss and love.
“Now that I’m a few weeks in, I love most everything about it,” Walker said. Although wrestling is seen a predominantly male sport, as multiple schools in the Suburban League have only boys wrestling for them, she feels numerous colleges and universities have created opportunities for girls to wrestle collegiately.
Her coach, Mr. Folk, shares her viewpoint on this subject. “There are more and more colleges that have female wrestling teams. Either way, I respect any girl who tries out for wrestling. A girl doing that in high school is a little more mentally and physically tougher than I think most people are because you’re on an island out there, by yourself,” said Folk. While less than 5% of students will continue this sport into college, he believes competing collegiately creates valuable experiences that most people won’t have.
Though Royalton’s student-athletes differ in a variety of ways, many have conveyed exceptional talent, leading to nearly thirty students each year committing to numerous colleges for athletics across the United States. As these seniors will soon be college freshman heading off to their first practices, their achievements will continue to be recognized long after they take their final steps out of Heritage Hallway.
Emma Kolick is currently a freshman at North Royalton High School. She is involved in numerous clubs such as student council, Key Club, Spanish Club, Fish Club, and STAND. She is also a member of the girls track team. Outside of school she enjoys yoga, spending time with her friends, reading and writing. After high school, she plans to attend college and possibly pursue a career in education and journalism.