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The Virginian-Pilot(Norfolk, VA.)
September 16, 2013 Monday
The Virginian-Pilot Edition
FRONT; Pg. A1
|Program pairs football and college coursework
By Elisabeth Hulette
Jamal Hunter was so close to a football scholarship.
At the start of his senior year in Orange County, he was being scouted by James Madison University. Then, during the first game of the season, a player slammed into his side, splitting his liver.
From the sidelines, Hunter watched his team get to the playoffs without him while the scouts turned their attention to players still on the field.
Instead of going to college, he took a factory job.
"I was heartbroken," Hunter said. "When I was out for the season, I lost everything."
Now, he may be getting a second chance.
Hunter, 20, is enrolled at the Virginia Beach Institute, a program for students who didn't get a football scholarship the first time around.
The institute doesn't have accreditation, nonprofit status, teachers, classrooms or any kind of track record - yet. What it does have are students who, like Hunter, believe it can turn them around.
Darrell Hatchett is one. A Newport News native, he got a job after high school to support his newborn son. Now, at 25, he wants to go back to school.
"I've been the 'shoulda-coulda-woulda' guy," Hatchett said. "I have a chance to change that."
ToriAnn Parker, a 22-year-old from Gloucester, got the institute going.
Last year, she interned with the Hampton Roads Gators, a college and football program that had been around for a few years and is gone now. She decided she could do better.
Parker knows about missed opportunities. She played soccer in high school, but during her senior year, she tore her meniscus and was diagnosed with lupus.
Instead of getting a scholarship to a four-year school, she went to Thomas Nelson Community College in Hampton, then the University of Maryland online.
Football players at the Virginia Beach Institute practice daily and play games against prep programs and junior colleges. They build up their skills and stats while taking online community college courses under the supervision of the staff.
Parker said there are similar programs in Texas and California but few on the East Coast.
The Virginia Beach Institute costs $2,500 a semester - $5,200 for those who stay at the Savannah Suites hotel in Norfolk, where students are housed.
These students could go to community college, but those schools don't often have football programs. Here, Parker said, they can do both.
The students who enrolled this fall landed here for all sorts of reasons: because of an injury, because of family, because their high school grades weren't good enough to play college sports. Staff members said they're passionate about getting those students back on the field and, more importantly, back in the classroom.
"There's nothing more important than getting your degree," Parker said. "They can take away all your contracts and endorsement deals, but they can't take away your education."
Eventually, Parker and her staff want to hire teachers, possibly turn the program into a junior college and add another sport, perhaps baseball. But first things first.
The staff is composed of volunteers, working for the promise of a salary further down the road. The students practice at the Virginia Beach Sportsplex and do schoolwork in the locker room, so a better facility is needed.
All that is coming, Parker said.
Institute leaders are eyeing a building in Hampton at Fort Monroe, which the military vacated two years ago, and making the connections needed to grow the program.
"The Virginia Beach Institute is here to stay," said head coach David Rodgers, a former football coach for Tidewater Academy in Wakefield.
"The passion we have for the game, for the students - we believe in it," he said.
Elisabeth Hulette, 757-222-5097,
Hyunsoo Leo Kim | The Virginian-Pilot Jamal Hunter, attending a weight training session on Friday, was injured at the start of his senior season in high school. "I was heartbroken," he said. Hyunsoo Leo Kim | The Virginian-Pilot Deylon Brooks lifts weights as teammate Demetrius Sanderlin-Lucas assists at a fitness center in Virginia Beach on Friday. The Virginia Beach Institute plays against prep programs and junior colleges.
September 16, 2013