March 17, 2010

Playing on scholarship is no game

— She walked into her coach's office at the University of Maine one day during her freshman year and did what she never imagined doing. Ashley Marble quit.

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Staff photo by {John Patriquin}:Tuesday, March 20, 2007. USM-Gorham basketball player Ashley Marble has had one of the most prolific athletic careers of any player at any Maine college.

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She no longer believed in herself and was terrified of her coach. The fun and excitement of playing a game at the Division I level had vanished, leaving behind a scholarship athlete who had so many questions and no answers.

''One of the most humbling things I've ever had to do was quit,'' said Marble. ''I was defeated when I left Maine. I really was.''

Last spring, she got her degree and walked away from her three-year career at the University of Southern Maine basketball team. She was one of the country's top Division III players, an All-American.

Marble knows of Emily Rousseau, but they've not met. She's heard or read of the reasons Rousseau quit the Maine basketball team and while the circumstances are different -- Marble was recruited to play volleyball -- there's a sameness, not just for them, but for many Division I athletes who accept the money, not seeing the strings attached.

''The recruiting part can be fun,'' said Sarah Marshall, the Catherine McAuley star who chose Boston College nearly five years ago. ''You're told all the positives, everything you want to hear. Then you get to campus for your freshman year and there's always the reality check.''

Fun? Don't work too hard trying to find it. Better to forget about it. This is your job, kid. Don't mess it up.

In a recent New York Times story on Division I athletes, a field hockey player finishing her career at Villanova on an athletic scholarship worth $19,000 annually said she knew what she was getting. She didn't know what she was getting into.

''I didn't even know the questions to ask,'' said Marble. ''Sarah, Emily, me. We're not very different. Our dream was getting a scholarship. It was almost as if they were handed out on a platter. You're told, 'Come and make a difference.' ''

They enter very structured lives. In Marshall's case, it was two or three morning classes and lunch. Get to the locker room about an hour before the 2 p.m. practice. Get to the training room if you're bruised or injured. Practice for two or three hours. Spend another hour in the weight room. Sometimes, spend more time watching game film. Go to dinner.

Return to your room, maybe by 7 p.m., maybe later. Study.

Different schedule for game days. Another schedule for road trips. ''Your freshman year is your figuring-it-out year,'' said Marshall, who quickly earned playing time in the BC backcourt. She and her teammates beat rival Connecticut, including one memorable time on her senior night. They played their way into three NCAA tournaments.

But Marshall remembers her freshman year, believed she was prepared, but still had to go through the shock of adjustment with the three other freshmen on the team.

''The practices are so much harder. The games are a big jump in skill level. I had good days and bad days and at times it was a job. I never questioned it. It had always been my dream.''

She had a support system, she had senior leadership and then became part of senior leadership. In Cathy Inglese, she had the same coach for all four years. Inglese, Marshall says, invited feedback. Got a problem? Talk to me.

Today, Marshall works at an investment management company. She laughs. Her major at BC was communications, but she remembers Inglese saying that her four years on campus would prepare her for anything. Maybe even an event next month that will truly be unique. Quarterback Matt Ryan and Marshall are a couple and he's the touted quarterback in the NFL draft.

At Maine, Marble looked down and didn't see a safety net. ''You had to be very self-sufficient or you could get lost. And I did.

''When you get to Division I, they own you and they remind you of that. As an athlete you're committed to sacrifice for the greater whole and I understand that. But no one was looking after me.''

That's when you lose the player and the person. If a 6 a.m. practice at home after a night game on the road becomes punishment, rather than motivation, the lesson is wasted. There's not much future for athletes if they believe they're playing not to lose.

At USM, where the string of NCAA tournament appearances continues, Marble's playing career did become her job, especially in her senior season after graduation and injuries weakened the team around her. Some will say that the intensity levels differ between Division I, II and III sports. Maybe the commitment levels, too.

''I made the choice to make it my job,'' said Marble. ''That was the difference. I'm happy now with my choices. I learned a tremendous amount about myself when I left Maine. I rose from that.''

She's quickly moved into coaching young athletes. Besides the fundamentals, she's already asking her players to understand. They have a choice, too.

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

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