Scholarships can tempt injured teen athletes to play


As high school athletics become more competitive, many injured athletes rush their rehabilitation and come back early in hopes of achieving an athletic scholarship.

University of St. Thomas freshman
Michael Frelix, photo courtesy
of the University of St. Thomas

“College scouts, once they actually know that your injured, they’ll cut you off at that point, because than they can get someone who’s good and didn’t have a leg or an arm injury,” said Mychal Frelix, a linebacker and freshman at the University of St. Thomas.

Frelix admits in high school to rushing back from a broken collarbone two weeks early in hopes of playing in front of more college scouts.

This has become common in high school athletics today, said Dr. Nicholas M. Edwards from the University of Minnesota. “This is quite common. The question almost every athlete has when they come see me for an injury is ‘When can I go back?’,” he said.

This problem occurs in both male and female athletics. Devyn Smith, 18, tore both of her ACLs – the anterior cruciate ligament, one of four major ligaments in the knee – during high school.

She tore the ACL in her right leg her junior year basketball season and the ACL in her left leg during her senior year soccer season.

Smith also confesses to rushing back from her first injury one month early. “I rushed the first ACL because I was trying to make it back for the winter basketball season because I was still trying to play college basketball,” she said. “I was getting a lot of scouting letters and talking to a lot of coaches at that point, so I was trying to make it back for the season so they could come watch me play, and I’d still have a chance.”

Smith will be an incoming freshman at North Dakota State University this fall. She received an athletic scholarship for track and field and will be competing in the high jump. She also tore her ACL again in August.

Hurrying your rehabilitation to come back to your sport early is a high-risk decision and could further jeopardize the teen athlete’s health.

“I tell them that all athletes, including the most elite athletes, get injured. Every athlete has to learn how to manage injury – it’s not a matter of if, just a matter of when and how to respond,” Edwards said. “I also tell them that the more successful athletes are the ones who can be strategic in their return to play. If they wait a little bit longer, they will be closer to 100 percent when they go back and can do well. If they go back too soon, they can worsen their injury and possibly miss the entire season.”

Frelix, who has been playing football ever since third grade, believes that football players have a different mentality when it comes to injuries. “(With) football injuries you’re taught to suck it up, for instance, like (in) basketball, you might baby it and sit out for a little longer.”

When asked when he started noticing coaches teaching him this mentality, Frelix said non-chalantly: “Ever since third grade, the coaches were tough.”

Frelix broke his collarbone in a pre-season scrimmage and still decided to finish up the scrimmage and play it out when he was in high school. “I don’t think I made a good decision. It was pretty rough the first few weeks back. The shoulder still to this day isn’t the same as it use to be,” he said.

High school athletes continue to push themselves and their bodies. But should there be someone to protect them from this?

“I think the entire team of people involved in organized activities need to be responsible: the parents, the sports medicine doctor, the coaches, the teammates and the athletic trainers,” Edwards said. “But it would be a mistake to think of the teens as helpless in all of this. They have the responsibility for their own health too. I think education of all of those involved with this decision making is the best way to care for young athletes and mitigate the effects of injury.”