Before every season, River Hill boys' soccer coach Bill Stara gives his players an economics lesson: Athletic scholarships, he tells them, are just not that easy to get.
River Hill has won four state titles in seven years and produced All-Met players in five of the last six years. But not a single River Hill boys' soccer player has received a scholarship to play Division I college soccer.
"A pure soccer scholarship, they are few and far between," Stara said. "A lot of parents are paying for the sport in which their kids play and think it's an investment. You use soccer as a way to help you get into school. If you are using it as a means to pay for school, my suggestion is you hire a tutor and get your kid an academic scholarship."
For every player who signs a national letter-of-intent, there are hundreds of high school athletes who don't earn scholarships, even though their parents have spent hundreds of dollars on club soccer teams or travel field hockey teams or expensive lacrosse camps.
"There seems to be an overemphasis by some parents at an early age to envision their son or daughter as a first-team all-American with a full ride to a Division I institution," said Steve Stenersen, director of U.S. Lacrosse.
The reality is that there aren't that many scholarships available.
Howard County Coordinator of Athletics Don Disney demonstrated that when he conducted a scholarship study in 2000. He found that 75 of the 2,202 county high school graduates in 1999 or 2000 -- just 3.4 percent -- received some form of athletic scholarship from a Division I or II university.
"There just isn't much out there," Disney said.
"Parents think there is so much scholarship money out there, and by the time the parents pour all the money into club programs to try to prepare their kids to get a scholarship, it's probably not what they think it is."
Even the best players don't always earn full scholarships -- Only 18 athletes in 1999 and 2000 did. Three-time state champion and four-time county champion Brandon Lauer, regarded as the most accomplished wrestler in county history, received a three-fourths scholarship, worth approximately $13,000 a year, to West Virginia when he graduated two years ago.
County girls' soccer co-player of the year Megan Buescher has received a partial scholarship to North Carolina State.
Her teammate Jamie Goertler received a partial scholarship to Florida State, and Hawks goalkeeper Erin Ferguson was a recruited walk-on at Connecticut.
Fifteen county girls' lacrosse players from this year's graduating class have accepted scholarship offers, but none will have her entire education paid for, not even Mount Hebron senior Kristen Waagbo, last year's player of the year and one of the top recruits in the nation.
"It's very unusual where you get a situation where everything is paid for," said Steve Waagbo, Kristen's father. "It's not too hard to understand the economics of it. If you only have 11 scholarships to offer, and a team is going to carry between 18 and 24 players, it's got to be spread out."
Waagbo was offered a scholarship worth three-fourths of her education at Duke, and Maria Bosica, Waagbo's teammate at Mount Hebron, accepted a 60 percent scholarship at James Madison.
"Full scholarships are not as common as people think they are," Bosica said. "I know that now from hearing about girls that are just amazing, incredible athletes who have not gotten full scholarships. They are definitely hard to come by."
At soccer powerhouse River Hill, Mo Hamzeh, a first-team All-Met athlete, and Justin Hughes, second-team All-Met, will play soccer in college but not on scholarship.
Hamzeh plans to attend Johns Hopkins, which does not offer athletic scholarships for soccer.
And Hughes believes his soccer skills may help him get into Bucknell, but he had envisioned soccer having a bigger impact on college.
He started playing the game at age 5, and his family has paid as much as $3,000 a year for soccer expenses and travel. He has long dreamed of earning an athletic scholarship through soccer.
"You set goals for yourself before you get to high school, and I kind of thought if I put in the work, it would all turn out fine," Hughes said. "You think, 'If I make all-county and all-state and All-Met and that stuff, I will put myself in a good situation to pick where I want to go.' I guess I was really shocked to find out that's not true."