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With its warm weather and top-notch training facilities, Naples has become a big draw for athletes training for individual sports year-round.
For teenagers who treat athletics as a full-time job, homeschooling and online courses are the only option for earning a diploma. However, a local private school wants to give elite athletes a real high school experience while allowing them to continue their rigorous workouts.
The Academy at Seacrest Country Day School will allow students to take classes at the East Naples school part-time while still graduating. Students in the Academy will be dismissed at noon to attend training with private coaches or instructors.
"We're trying to provide the best of both worlds," Seacrest director of enrollment management Cindy Weir said. "It's a unique opportunity for student-athletes to continue their training while we provide them a high school experience with our professional and dedicated faculty."
Seacrest will host an informational meeting about the Academy at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, May 6. Those interested should contact Weir by calling the school at 239-793-1986 or by emailing email@example.com
Sport-specific high schools are on the rise in Florida. The most well-known, IMG Academy in Bradenton, is a school where every student trains for his or her sport half of the day.
Seacrest isn't trying to become the next IMG. The Naples school, with an enrollment of 133 students, won't handle any of the training for its Academy students. Rather, the students who already are training with individual coaches can take Seacrest's normal classes and still have time for their sports.
"We felt it's a marketplace that's not being tapped," said Erin Duffy, head of Seacrest's upper school. "Particularly with our weather, certain sports are drawn here to Southwest Florida. We felt we could (accommodate those athletes) without a disruption to our students."
The Academy at Seacrest also will provide college counseling through an academic coordinator who will make sure students are staying on track to graduate and be eligible for NCAA colleges.
Students have to apply to enroll in the Academy, and they must have a letter of recommendation from their independent coach or trainer. To fulfill graduation requirements, Academy students will have to take a six-week summer course at Seacrest.
Duffy said she expects the Academy to start small with less than 15 students this summer. Enrollees will pay Seacrest's $20,500 annual tuition, plus an additional $2,500 for the summer class.
The 10-year-old high school has experience catering to high-level athletes. In the past, Seacrest has worked with Division I-level athletes to tailor their academic schedules to allow for more training.
Chelsea Preeg, the Stingrays' first Division I athlete, took an adjusted class schedule before graduating in 2008 and playing tennis at Vanderbilt. Swimmer Ridge Altman did the same before graduating in 2011 and walking on at Southern California.
Students who attend the Academy will be eligible to compete on Seacrest's sports teams.
"We're excited to give kids an opportunity so they don't have to go all the way to IMG or something of that level," Seacrest athletic director Mark Marsala said.