By Kelly Ettenborough
As colleges and universities become increasingly competitive, students need more than amazing athletic talent to stand out for recruitment. They also need great grades and the ability to succeed academically in high school and in higher education.
Meet three inspiring Arizona student athletes who are set for success in high school and beyond.
Carlos Hassey – Varsity Tennis Player and Sophmore Shadow Ridge High School in Surprise
As a freshman, Carlos was the top player on his high school varsity team and he competes in tournaments around the country as a nationally ranked tennis player. He’s following in the footsteps of his dad, Carlos Sr., who was the Mexican Junior National Champion in 1974 and 1975 and a member of the University of California Irvine Men’s Tennis Team as well as being a professional player and coach of some tennis players that have reached top 50 in the world. His sister also is a nationally ranked tennis player and a college sophomore on a full ride tennis scholarship.
Why He Loves Tennis: I can compete in an individual basis. It’s a sport you can do for a lifetime. It has helped me be disciplined. I love to travel and seeing all the new places that tennis competitions take me.
Favorite School Subject: Math. It’s challenging and I enjoy working with numbers.
Accolades/Activities: His current tennis rank is No. 9 in the Southwest and his national Class of 2017 rank is No. 128. He is more of a sports guy than a club guy, but he appreciates that schools require good grades in order to participate in any high school or college sports. It’s motivation to do well in high school and makes athletes more responsible.
Future Success: He hopes to pick from tennis scholarships from various Division 1 schools and wants to start playing international tennis soon. Since I was a young boy, I also have wanted to become a firefighter.
Balancing Practice & Academics: I practice no less than three hours a day and most of my tennis friends are homeschooled. As a public school student, I practice hard and organize my time so I can still have some time with friends.
Sacrifices: I have to give up time with friends to practice and compete and I have to watch my sleeping habits so I can be rested. My commitment to tennis also limits my time for football, soccer and basketball, which I also enjoy.
Advice for Parents of Athletes: Be supportive of your kid’s athletic dreams, encourage the importance of competing instead of having to win all the time. This develops character on and off the court.
Inspiration: My dad and sister definitely have been an inspiration as being the two people I look up to the most. Seeing their passion in tennis was contagious and has really made it a family interest.
Fun Facts: I like to spend time with friends, go to the movies and play other sports.
Tony Sepulveda – Varsity Baseball Player and Senior Chandler High School
Tony, who turns 17 on Aug. 6, grew up on the Navajo Nation in Chinle and his dad, Richard, created the Chinle Youth Baseball League so he could play baseball. In eighth grade, his family moved to Chandler to give Tony more opportunities to play in statewide leagues and for a high school team.
Why He Loves Baseball: Because it’s the only game you can fail 70 percent of the time and still be good.
Favorite school subject: Math. It’s the one thing I’m good at other than baseball.
Accolades/Activities: A varsity player since his freshman year in high school, Tony is also a member of National Honor Society and must maintain a 3.5 GPA. Tony was named the team MVP for the 2013-14 school year and was instrumental in taking the team to the state playoffs. Before he was 9 years old, he was named a four-time All State player and two time MVP in the 12 and up division.
Future Success: He’s already been recruited by about 100 colleges and universities including 17 Division 1 schools. He hopes to major in engineering. After college, he wants to go to the Major Leagues and play for the Dodgers. If not, he will pursue a career in engineering.
Balancing Practice & Academics: School will always come first. I do my best in class and work my hardest at practice.
Sacrifices: Because of baseball, I never have time to go back to Chinle and visit with my grandparents. I think my family has done most of the sacrificing when it comes to my baseball schedule. They’re always there traveling and cheering me on. I love them for that.
Advice for Parents of Athletes: Push your kids to do their best in everything.
Inspiration: To be better than my dad. (So I have bragging rights!)
Fun Facts: I love tacos and my favorite movie is Toy Story. If I’m not playing baseball or at school, I’m playing video games with friends.
Courtney Christmas – Varsity Basketball Player and SeniorLiberty High School in Peoria
Courtney’s first exposure to basketball was at the age of 6 in a City of Peoria Recreational League. When the high school season ends, the 17 year old is ready for club season with the Arizona Thunder and pick up games with friends.
Why She Loves Basketball: I love the fast pace of the game. I like the challenge of competition, the thrill of scoring and to reach specific goals like winning a school state title or a major club tournament.
Favorite School Subject: Science. I enjoy learning with the many experiments we do in class depending on the lessons.
Accolades/Activities: Among many basketball awards, she was selected All Arizona Top 5 Basketball Girls in Arizona by The Arizona Republic, 1st Team AIA Section Player of the Year for 2012/13 and the Peoria Unified School District All District Team Player of the Year for 2013/14. Her sophomore year, she was in the Best Buddies Club, and now she gives her time to the Unified Sports Program/Special Olympics.
Future Success: She wants to play college basketball. Several colleges have reached out, but she hasn’t made a decision yet. After college, she wants to play basketball as long as possible. If that doesn’t work out, she wants to become a dental hygienist and a basketball coach for a girls’ basketball club program.
Balancing Practice & Academics: Assignments and homework are worked on before or after basketball practices and games.
Sacrifices: I try to schedule time with my friends. Many are into various high school sports, so I try to watch their games and spend time with them after their games.
Advice for Parents of Athletes: Encourage them. Attending games and cheering you on is very important. Be proud whether they have athletic success or not.
Inspiration: My mom and dad because of the sacrifices they have made for me to play basketball, especially on my club ball team. Many meals have been missed and many vacations spent in a gym watching me play. I also get inspiration from other athletes who have overcome adversities or problems to achieve success in their sports.
Fun Facts: I love camping; it’s so relaxing and I like to hang out with my friends, or bowling.
Advice from a Coach
Carlos Hassey Sr. is a former professional tennis player, professional tennis coach, director of the tennis program at the Wigwam, and the father of two nationally ranked junior tennis players. Here’s his advice for parents as a coach–and as a dad.
Q: Are athletics important for high school students even if they don’t pursue playing at a college or professional level?
A: Absolutely. Sports teach discipline, give them self-confidence and self esteem, develop character, keep them out of trouble, and helps them remain active in their adult life.
Q: How do you encourage natural athletic talent and love of a sport without being ‘one of those parents’ who push a sport on a young child with dreams of creating a professional athlete?
A: First, you have to support the sport your child loves, not the sport you love. Second, give your child small goals to achieve. For example, a mini goal in tennis would be a state ranking, and then a larger goal would be a national ranking. Praise them every step of the way when they succeed, and encourage them when they don’t.
Q: How much training is appropriate for an elementary school-aged child versus a high school student?
A: Three days a week is a good place to start for a younger child. Then increase the time as your child gets better and older. Playing/practicing six days a week is the typical schedule for a high school athlete. Make sure you give them one day off. The most important thing is that your child has fun.
Q: How do you balance being a dad and a coach?
A: I show them respect on and off the court and let them know that no matter what happens on the court, I still love them with all my heart.