I have visited a lot of prep schools since I have been placing players. One of my first calls is always to the staff at Worcester Academy. In this business it comes down to relationships. Simple traits such as good communication and honesty go a long way. See the following guest post by my friend Coach Dan Sullivan from Worcester Academy. He does a great job explaining the benefits of a post grad year at a New England prep school.
Cory Heitz reached out to us in the summer of 2014. He introduced himself as someone who wanted to develop relationships with various prep schools across the country with the intention of giving families more options for their child if they are not satisfied with the options at hand. With many of the country’s premier post-graduate programs located in the northeast, Cory visited several of these schools so he could get a first-hand experience of what a New England prep school is like.
New England is home to many of the most accomplished prep schools in the country, with most of them established in or before the 19th century. Their main goal is to prepare their students for college in many facets; academically, socially, and athletically. Worcester Academy is a co-ed school established in 1834 and has an outstanding academic reputation. The student population in our high school is about 500 students, with around 180 of them boarding in dormitories on WA’s campus. More than 100 of our students are international, coming from more than 25 different countries. Virtually all of WA grads continue on to college, with many attending some of the top schools in the country. Boarding students are served three meals a day in our cafeteria. School runs from 8:00am to 3:30pm each day, with athletic practices, games, and team workouts taking place after school. Financial aid is offered to those families who qualify.
Worcester is the second largest city in New England, and is one of the only New England prep schools to be located in an urban environment. We are located in the Vernon Hill district of Worcester. This enables our school to undertake many community service opportunities that not many other prep schools have the opportunity to do. As a program, we fed over 1,200 homeless people each fall and put on a basketball clinic at a local elementary school. There are countless other ways for our students here at WA to get involved in helping the community.
As a basketball program, Worcester Academy has one of the proudest and strongest traditions in all of prep school basketball. Along with championship banners dating back to the 1950s and three former coaches that reside in the New England Basketball Hall of Fame (including former player and coach Dee Rowe, who is nominated for the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame for this upcoming year), WA currently sports two NBA players, two NBA head coaches, and one NBA general manager as alums. The program’s head coach, Jamie Sullivan, is entering his 6th year as the head coach in 2016-17 after spending 13 prior years as an assistant coach to Mo Cassara (former head coach at Hofstra University) and Ed Reilly (former head coach at Bryant University and former assistant coach at Brown, Holy Cross, and Princeton). In his time at WA, Sullivan has sent more than 65 players to Division 1 schools, as well as countless others to Division 2 and Division 3 schools. Coach Reilly serves as the Director of Athletics for WA and as an assistant coach for the varsity basketball team. Between Coach Jamie Sullivan, Coach Reilly & Coach Dan Sullivan, we have three full-time staff members working on campus.
Families who are not satisfied with the college options for their son or daughter look at post-graduate years for various reasons. Academics are one reason many families look at a “PG” year. With recent changes to the NCAA Eligibility Center, student-athletes can no longer enroll in a post-graduate year to make up a lot of credits. The days of going to prep school to “get eligible” are in decline. With that being said, students still have the opportunity to increase their GPA and SAT/ACT score to improve their chances of getting into a college of their choice. Many post-graduate students choose to take the SAT or ACT once or twice during the year. Since many of the core courses taken within their first four years of high school are already locked in, students can take Advanced Placement courses with the opportunity to earn college credit (WA offers 21 AP courses to its students). Many also take elective courses in areas of study that they may be interested in majoring or minoring in at the college level. There is plenty of academic support at Worcester Academy. With an 8:1 faculty to student ratio, class sizes do not exceed 14 or 15 students. Many classes, especially electives for juniors, seniors & post-graduates, have under 10 students in them, allowing a more personalized learning experience with their teacher. Students receive laptop computers at the beginning of the year which is where much of their schoolwork will be done. We also have a “Collective Collaborative Learning” period built into our daily schedule four days a week. This “CCL” period serves as office hours in which every teacher is available for extra help to students who may need it. Teachers are available for extra help before school, after school, and during free periods over the course of the week. Our Center For Learning is also available for students with documented learning needs. The CFL provides individualized and personalized instruction to students in specific areas of need.
Some families decide that a post-graduate year is a good option for their son or daughter based on their age and maturity level. A young senior, who may not be ready for college yet, has the opportunity to live away from home and experience dorm life. The structure that prep schools offer cannot be overstated. Especially for student athletes with aspirations of playing at the next level, time management is something that we stress every day. There are two hours of study hall in the dorms every weeknight to give students time to get their schoolwork done. With one or two free periods during the course of the day, students must choose to spend that time wisely. They have the opportunity to complete their homework during that time, but they also have the ability to seek out teachers for extra help, or get in a workout with one of their coaches. Some students need another year after high school to develop academically, psychologically, and physically so they can succeed once they get to college. Having to balance academics and athletics is something that is invaluable to a post-graduate year, as it is something that many freshmen struggle with when they first arrive on a college campus.
Athletics are a reason that many families decide to look at a PG year. The NEPSAC (New England Prepatory School Athletic Council) consists of a wide range of prep schools in terms of size, location, academics, and athletics. Worcester Academy plays in NEPSAC Class AA for basketball. This is one of the deepest and most prestigious leagues in the country. Every year, teams with multiple Division 1 signees get left out of the league’s playoffs. We are one of a few leagues in the country that consistently have multiple players ranked in the ESPN Top 100. With the quality of basketball that is played in the league (and at WA) comes great exposure. Many families opt for a PG year because they want their son or daughter to gain more exposure to college coaches. Coaches from all levels (Division 1, 2 & 3) recruit our student-athletes. College coaches know the level of play in our league, and take that into account while watching an open gym, practice, or game. Exposure is not limited to our games. Even though every team in our league plays between 25 and 30 games during the regular season, coaches also come to practice during the season and open gyms during the fall.
Division 1, 2, and 3 colleges are allowed to come to school campuses in the fall and watch a team workout. Different schools conduct open gyms differently; our team plays 5-on-5 in front of the coaches. We conduct open gyms two or three times per week. Every August, we send our open gym schedule and our roster (with descriptions of each player) to nearly every coaching staff in the country, inviting them to come to campus to watch our student-athletes. Last year, more than 100 different schools came to our gym in the fall alone to watch our team play, with many more coming during the season. Prep school offers post-graduates the opportunity to be seen by college coaches that may not have seen them during their high school career. It also offers the opportunity to work out outside of the season and improve their skills. NEPSAC rules allow prep school coaches to work out with their student-athletes in groups of three or less to improve their skills (a rule that is nonexistent in many public high school associations around the country). A post-graduate year also gives student-athletes another year in the weight room to get stronger and quicker in preparation for college.
Working with Cory has been very efficient, as we had a student-athlete recommended by him on our roster during the 2015-16 school year. Tanner Johnson, a post-graduate from Lexington, KY, earned his first Division 1 offer within a month of being on our campus, and committed to Bryant University in October of 2015. In addition, Tanner succeeded in the classroom and was an outstanding member of our WA community. Cory gives us an honest evaluation of each prospective student and their family. Having visited many of these schools and met with coaches in person, he can steer families toward a school that would most benefit each student. There are many prep schools here in the northeast, and not every school is for every student from an academic, social, and athletic perspective. We highly recommend Cory for those families that would like to pursue a post-graduate year.
The post-graduate year is a struggle. But out of that struggle comes personal growth. Unlike the perception that many across the country have about prep schools, student-athletes at Worcester Academy are held accountable in the classroom, within the school community, and on the court. But students get out of what they put into the school. Students that come and go through the motions will not get the most out of their post-graduate year. We will give students the tools to be successful; it is up to them if they want to use the resources we offer. Coming to prep school alone is not enough to improve academics. Coming to prep school alone will not guarantee a college scholarship or a spot at the program you would like to go to. But coming to prep school puts student-athletes in a position to succeed in college and beyond, and that should be the end goal for families looking at a post-graduate year. For more information on our school, feel free to visit www.worcesteracademy.org.