h2. How to turn athletic talent into cold, hard cash

JOHNNY JUST DUMPED the school carnival clown in the dunk tank for the 10th straight time, and you’re convinced he’s a future starting pitcher for the Oregon State Beavers. Given that the average in-state tuition at a public university has jumped to $5,836 a year, it’s hard not to get excited about the prospect of a free ride courtesy of a blistering fastball. However, securing a college sports scholarship takes more than natural talent: It requires patience, paperwork and, ironically, some financial investment. We talked to coaches, athletic directors and even sports agents to get the dirt on how to give your kid the best shot at scoring big. —Kasey Cordell

h3. 1. WARM UP

Get them involved in club sports, suggests Mike Hughes, the athletic director at Beaverton’s Jesuit High School, which last year sent 18 graduates to Division I programs on full or partial scholarships. Unlike standard school teams, club sports attract the best athletes in a given region and offer kids the chance to travel and compete at ages as young as 11. Plus, a club season gives your all-star additional months to improve his skills. And once your child hits high school, club tournaments are where the college coaches flock to scout. “College coaches typically don’t go to a high school to see one athlete,” says Hughes, who’s also the parent of a Division I volleyball player. “They go to club tournaments, where they can watch 10,000.” Note that this exposure may not come cheap: Fees at one of the metro area’s premier club volleyball programs, Nike Northwest Juniors, creep close to $3,000 per year, per athlete for the elite 18-and-under division.

h3. 2. PLAY THE GAME

Johnny’s junior year is the time to send an introductory letter, a stats sheet and even video footage to coaches at the colleges he wants to attend. Pay attention to the rules set out by the National Collegiate Athletic Association about how to protect his amateur status, like not taking prize money at competitions (visit www.ncaa.org for details). Agencies like Global Sports & Entertainment can also build and distribute his packet, but be prepared to shell out up to $6,000.


h3. 3. PICK A WINNER

The NCAA offers a list of helpful questions for him to ask during campus visits, like “What other players are competing for my position?” and “How would you describe your coaching style?” But the most important question is the one he’ll have to ask himself: “Is this the right school for me?” Because if he blows out his knee during his freshman year, you still want him to thrive academically—which is, after all, the point of college.