Division I college athletics are something special. For four years, some of the best and brightest young athletes from across the country compete, pouring out their hearts and occasionally even captivating the nation’s attention with their talent — all without pay and without the glamour of professional sports.
But in this arena, the talent is fleeting. After four years, even the best must move on, trade in their uniforms for a diploma and prepare for the next leg of the race, which, for many, will mean the end of their athletic careers. What comes next is sometimes unclear, but for four former and current Binghamton University student-athletes — Lauren Verrusio, Kyle Kucharski, Michelle McDonough and Erik van Ingen — success on the court, the field and the track seem to have built a path to success in the workplace.
When Lauren Verrusio graduated from BU in 2006, she knew that she wanted a career in public relations, but she was unsure of the role sports would play in her future.
Verrusio had just spent four years playing outfield for the Binghamton University softball team. She was president of PEER Pride, a student-athlete advisory committee, and eventually landed an internship with the Women’s Sports Foundation the summer of her senior year.
After graduation, however, Verrusio initially steered away from sports. She took a job in PR communications with Virgin Atlantic Airlines where she traveled around the world, throwing international events and press conferences for the company. For Verrusio, her departure from athletics would help her determine whether her passion for softball could transfer into a possible career in sports.
“I wanted to see if I loved sports because I was so used to playing [them] my entire life or if because I actually had a passion for [them],” Verrusio said.
According to Verrusio, the job with Virgin Atlantic was “fantastic,” but eventually an opportunity came along that she could not resist. In 2008, Verrusio was hired as a specialist for business public relations for Major League Baseball. Sports were back at the center of Verrusio’s life once again.
Now approaching her third year with MLB and recently promoted to manager, Verrusio attributes much of what led her to where she is now to her time at BU. She said her experience as an athlete and her involvement with PEER Pride were great learning experiences that opened doors for her, aiding in her discovery of what she enjoyed and helping her build important contacts along the way.
Perhaps the greatest impact the sport had on Verrusio was on her work ethic. As a member of a Division I team, Verrusio learned, hands on, the importance of hard work and how it can be used to overcome adversity.
“You learn how to work,” Verrusio said. “You see what you want and you learn how to get there and you learn how to not give any excuses.”
Kyle Kucharski first stepped onto the field as a member of the Binghamton University men’s soccer team in 2006. A four-year starter, Kucharski helped send the Bearcats to the America East Championship in his freshman year when he connected for a goal during a sudden-death shootout against Boston University. The performance set the tone for the rest of his college soccer career, which ended in 2010. But the impact the sport has had on his life has yet to cease.
“[My experience playing soccer at BU] defined my college career,” Kucharski said. “It shaped my whole life pretty much. The lessons that I learned from college, most of them came from soccer, either directly or indirectly.”
After graduation, Kucharski found a job with Teach for America as a ninth-grade algebra teacher at Craigmont High School in Memphis, Tenn. A program that looks to eliminate educational inequity, Teach for America sends what its website dubs as the “the nation’s most promising future leaders” to teach in 39 low-income areas across America.
More than anything else, Kucharski said, the game’s influence on his way of dealing with conflict and adversity and his understanding of the importance of teamwork have helped him get through his first year.
“Working together toward a common goal is something that you have to do in soccer … and here in teaching,” he said. “The faculty and staff that I work with, we’re all looking to improve everyday and get better as a team.”
Kucharski, who helps coach varsity soccer and basketball at the school, said the lessons he’s learned from soccer are ones he also tries to pass down to his students. According to him, he and his students refer to themselves as a team, and their goal of preparing themselves for future success is one that they take on together.
During her time at BU, former Binghamton volleyball phenom Michelle McDonough shone both on and off the court. The Bearcats’ all-time leader in kills, McDonough received America East All-Conference honors for the third consecutive year in 2010. The two-year captain led the conference with 3.88 kills per set during her senior year, and her 1,078 career digs rank fifth in program history.
McDonough’s accolades in the classroom are just as impressive. Earning her degree in mathematics and secondary education in just three years, McDonough was named an America East Scholar-Athlete in 2010 while working toward her master’s degree. She was nominated to the AE All-Academic Team three years in a row, becoming just the second student-athlete to achieve such a feat since the honor was created in 2005.
“I [focused] on improving everyday, both athletically and academically,” McDonough said. “I balanced my time and made sure that I was performing at my best in all categories. For me it wasn’t about the awards, though; it was about becoming the best that I could become.”
McDonough continues to be influenced by the sport that consumed a great a portion of her college life. Now a coach at the school where she student-teaches, McDonough calls her experience as a member of the BU volleyball team the best of her life.
Following the completion of her final season in the fall of 2010, McDonough returned home to Chicago, Ill. to student-teach. The desire to become a teacher has been a longstanding one for McDonough, whose father, also a teacher, inspired the decision.
“I saw all the good he was able to do and wanted to make on the same impact on children,” McDonough said.
McDonough has recently signed up for an official teaching job, and if all goes as planned, she will become a full-time math teacher and volleyball coach in the Chicago area this August.
All-American Binghamton track star Erik van Ingen has impressed in the classroom just as much as he’s excelled on the track. Van Ingen, who plans to graduate next spring with a degree in cinema, was named to the America East Commissioner’s Honor Roll in 2010. He eventually hopes to land a job in independent film making or perhaps find work with a studio as an editor or cinematographer.
Van Ingen isn’t quite ready to hang up his running sneakers just yet, though. After a stellar athletic career thus far as a member of both the track and field and cross country teams, van Ingen hopes to pursue running professionally after BU.
The distance runner, who is the first Bearcat to run the mile in under four minutes, broke the four-minute mark for the second consecutive year this February. He was named Northeast Region Men’s Track Athlete of the Year by the United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches’ Association earlier this year.
“It’s really developed into a type of thing where it’s what I do, it’s what I really enjoy; it’s kind of defining,” van Ingen said. “I find that, for me, it’s a really good release from, quote-unquote, real world stresses.”
Van Ingen said his first move after graduation will be acquiring an agent who will meet with shoe companies to assure van Ingen receives funding. From there, he would likely receive a travel budget and eventually find a spot in a training group and compete in races.
Van Ingen, who describes the process as a lot like selecting a college, has already been contacted by a few agencies and said consideration over the decision will likely pick up over the next year.