By BRENT STUBBS
Senior Sports Reporter
THE Bahamas Parents Association of Student Athletes is doing all it can to assist as many Bahamian student-athletes attain their goal of competing and earning a degree at various NAIA, Junior College and NCAA divisional colleges and universities in the United States.
But with the coronavirus pandemic now in full effect, Bernard Newbold, one of the administrators for the programme, said they could see a decline in the amount of student-athletes heading off for the upcoming semester, even though they are under the Ministry of Education’s Scholarship Grants Programme.
“I don’t know if the pandemic is affecting them as much as the assistance that they would receive from the government because that assistance has been temporarily suspended,” said Newbold, who has been working with the programme since 2005.
“That has placed a burden on the parents, so for some of the student-athletes, they won’t be going to school this year. But the good news is that some of the schools that our athletes will be attending have agreed to use the funds that they had available for this semester and next semester and to give the student-athletes a one semester full scholarship, so when they come back in the fall of 2021, they would go back to the original agreement that they had.”
Newbold, now in his first year as an assistant coach for sprints and hurdles at Central Arkansas, said mostly new student-athletes on the programme who were looking to begin their college experiences this month would be affected, if they were depending on the assistance from the government.
However, he noted that those returning student-athletes that are already on the grant offered by the ministry would not have been affected as their payments would continue.
“Overall, financially for returning students, the pandemic has not affected them, but we won’t really know the true effect until January once the season is scheduled to get underway,” he stated.
The BPASA, an organisation started by businessman Harrison Petty in 1999, is designed to assist student-athletes who want to secure scholarships to schools in the United States.
The scholarships obtained cover books and tuition and some have a dollar amount to help take care of the student-athletes’ school costs.
According to Newbold, a school could provide funding up to $20,000 out of a cost of $30,000, which could be applied to whatever areas of financial commitment that the student-athlete desires. There is also the book and tuition scholarships where the student-athletes would have to pay for room and board, which include housing and their meals.
“We have some that do give full scholarships, but not all would give the full scholarships and the ones that don’t give the full scholarships, they depend on the Ministry of Education’s Tuition Assistance Grant to help them cover the remaining balance,” Newbold said.
There are over 150 student-athletes who have benefitted from the BPASA’s programme from 2016-2020 with a number of them expecting to graduate this year. Despite the pandemic, there were some virtual graduations held and the majority will take place in December.
“This year we have about 15 student-athletes who have signed up for the scholarship programme,” Newbold revealed.
“The programme is growing. Overall, it’s a successful programme. It has gone from parents having to self-fund to the Ministry of Education coming on board in 2013/14 to assist with a grant of $3,000 per year for the student-athletes to help them defray the cost.
“Once they meet a certain GPA (grand point average), they can qualify for the National Students Assistance Programme, which is about $7,500. So that has helped the student-athletes a whole lot to be able to graduate on time and come back home to help with the progression of other student-athletes.”
Newbold said a number of those student-athletes upon graduation have either returned home and are now working in the school system as physical education teachers or are still in the United States where they have gone on to become college head and assistant coaches where they are trying to assist more Bahamian student-athletes getting into college.
“So we started off with about two or three coaches in the United States, who have been working with us and now it has exploded and there are a lot of coaches who are now giving our student-athletes the opportunity to compete for their respective schools,” said Newbold of former student-athletes like Donnovette Martin, Derrick Atkins, Aaron Cleare and Trevor Barry, who are now in the coaching fraternity.
“We’re grateful to the ministry for their assistance, but it’s only been this year that they’ve had to cut the budget for the student-athletes because of the pandemic. So overall, I think from where the programme started to where it is right now, we can say that it has been very successful.”
Southeastern Louisiana University, Purdue, Indiana Tech, Benedict College, Highland Community College, Colby Community College and Barton County Community College are some of the leading colleges and universities that have assisted the BPASA in getting the student-athletes into their programmes.
“It’s a whole list of schools that the student-athletes from around the country have attended,” Newbold said.
“They have been grateful to the student-athletes and we know that the student-athletes have all been able to excel as a result of the scholarships that they received.
“We’ve had a number of champions, including Latario Collie-Minns, who was the last Bahamian to win an NCAA title, who came through the programme. He was at Iowa Western, then went on to Texas AM University,” Newbold noted.
“We’ve also had Andre Colebrooke, Ashley Riley and Cliff Resias, who also came through the programme and were successful,” he added.