Only On 6: A Look At Club Sports

For Joe Barron, Bethany Hale, Abby Donnell and Marcus Foster, the goal is the same: earn a college scholarship.

Because of that, all four Texoma athletes suit up or have suited up for more than just their respective high school teams.

Joe Barron, a 2011 Hirschi graduate, played one year for the Burkburnett Blacksox baseball program. Bethany Hale, a 2012 Iowa Park graduate, played four years for the D'Feeters Soccer Club in Farmers Branch. Abby Donnell, a Rider senior, currently plays for the Mizuno Impulse out of Dallas and has played for several other top softball clubs in Texas. Marcus Foster, a Hirschi senior, plays for the Dallas Mustangs AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) basketball team.

How do these club sports help get these kids into college?

The Exposure

"No matter the talent, without the exposure and recognition, there's hardly any chance at all of getting to the next level," Laquintia Barron, Joe's mother, said.

The Hirschi Huskies baseball team won only two district games during Joe Barron's four-year high-school career, meaning college scouts were rarely watching. And, if they were watching, Joe was routinely pitched around, a frustrating fact for a kid looking to show his skills.

"It was discouraging to me to watch him become discouraged," Laquintia Barron said.

After Joe graduated, his parents weighed a big decision: whether or not to spend thousands of dollars to send Joe to the Burkburnett Blacksox for the summer. The Blacksox, one of Texoma's largest club programs, started in 1976. The program has sent more than 600 kids to college, totaling more than $3.7 million in scholarship money.

The family decided to raise the money, because of that one magic word: exposure.

For girls sports, especially soccer, softball and volleyball, club sports is a must.

"If you really want to play at a D-I school, you really got to play club ball," Charles Donnell, Abby's father, said.

Brett Hale, Bethany's father, says that it's about being in the right place at the right time.

Translation: you need college coaches to see you play. There's more incentive to watch tons of talented girls play at a club tournament than watch a high school match with only a couple of college prospects.

"There were times that we counted over 70 coaches on one sideline at one game," he said.

Better Competition, Better Teammates

"You don't want to play on a team that you're by far the best player," Charles Donnell said. "You're not getting better."

Abby Donnell has moved up to better and better softball club teams since she starting playing club ball.

Marcus Foster is widely regarded as the best basketball prospect in Texoma. He's been playing AAU ball since 8th grade and with the Dallas Mustangs, one of Texas's top programs, since his freshman year.

"In AAU, you got to bring it every time," he said. "They just push you to the side if you're not there that game because they've got people on the team that can replace you."

For Bethany Hale, club soccer was the only option. Iowa Park doesn't field a high school soccer team, and she's had the goal of playing for Texas Tech since she was five years old.

"You're always getting better," she said. "There's always players that are going to push you."

The Challenges

Club ball can cost a ton, into the thousands of dollars range.

Abby Donnell competed in tournaments in Chicago, Denver, Las Vegas and in California last year. Many of those tournaments are 3-7 days. The family has to pay for plane tickets, hotel and food for all those trips in addition to any fees from the club teams.

Coaches say club ball can range from $3,000 to $7,000 annually for the families.

Brett Hale says you're better off putting the money into a college fund if your only goal is to get a scholarship out of club ball.

While these four families are supportive of club ball, many are not. Laquintia Barron started out on the other side of the fence.

"I was (thinking), 'they just wanted more money; they just want another bed to fill'," she said, about when the Blacksox first called about Joe. "It turned out to be the opposite."

The Barron family raised some of the money needed through the Blacksox media guide program, a program designed to help families with the cost. Kids take the previous year's media guide to his hometown, raising money by selling advertisements for it.

When asked about the high cost to compete for the Sox, general manager Mickey Cornelius simply answers "what's the alternative?"

"If they use the ad sales to pay their way here and their son comes out of the other end with a scholarship, whether it be a 25 percent, 50 percent, what have you, it looks to me like a win-win," he said.

All four families say doing the research ahead of the time is the key to ending up with a good, trustworthy program.

"Clubs lose their credibility if they're not able to get their kids in front of the colleges that the kids are wanting to play for," Hale said.

Corruption is the biggest problem when it comes to AAU basketball.

Rumors of coaches, agents and shoe companies tinkering with kids' futures are common. Marcus Foster's mother, Alvita, says the family has not encountered any problems, but she has heard some of the rumors. She's confident that if Marcus were to face a shady situation, he would make the right decision.

"Basically the people I surround myself with, my parents, my coaches (are important)," Marcus Foster said. "I don't mess with any other people, just the people that's been with me since the beginning."

The Benefits: Scholarships & More

The Barron family's investment into Joe paid off with a scholarship to Labette College in Parsons, Kansas. Joe is preparing for his sophomore season, with hopes of moving on to a top D-I or D-II program once junior college comes to a close.

Bethany Hale leaves for Texas Tech next week. While her time with her club team helped gain her a scholarship, Brett Hale is quick to point out that there were more goals than just a scholarship.

"What the hope is is that the journey will make the kid," he said. "We can see the in her now that she's grown up to be a fine, hard-working young lady who's goal oriented. That's what we've always sought out of it."

Abby Donnell verbally committed to Texas A&M during her sophomore season, while a Google search of Marcus Foster brings up several D-I team blogs with the guard on their recruiting wish list.

There's also been more surprising benefits than just the scholarships.

"We have spent so many hours with her through her teenage years that it forces family bonding, forces family conversations," Brett Hale said. "It's really been a great time."

Both Bethany Hale's and Abby Donnell's family vacations involve some kind of sporting event.

"It was fun for me," Abby Donnell said. "I got to see and travel to different places."

But maybe most importantly, the tough competition, the time away from home and the road trips to different tournaments help prepare these four Texoma athletes for life at the college level.

Click on video links to watch the two-part special, part one on Joe Barron's family decision to play or not to play and part two on the need for girls to play club ball in order to gain college exposure.

Plus, watch an older story looking at the Clay County Volleyball Association club team and check back with Newschannel 6 on Saturday for a look at Marcus Foster and AAU hoops.

Also, check back for additional content , including extra interviews.