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THE ULTIMATE JOCK SCHOOL
Kelley King
November 25, 2002
The education is intensive—and expensive—at IMG Academies, where sports come first and classes are fit into training regimens designed to help students reach their athletic goals
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November 25, 2002

The Ultimate Jock School

The education is intensive—and expensive—at IMG Academies, where sports come first and classes are fit into training regimens designed to help students reach their athletic goals

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COURT COSTS

Here's the price range for one school year at IMG Academies, using as an example a high school-age tennis player who wants to shoot for the stars

BARE BONES

Daily sports instruction, once-a-week group mental conditioning, room, board

$30,100

Tournament account (minimum): Entry and travel fees to competitions

$500

Spending money (minimum)

$800

TOTAL

$31,400

A LA CARTE

Daily sports instruction, once-a-week group mental conditioning, room, board

$30,100

Pendleton School tuition

$11,250

Tournament account (maximum)

$7,000

Spending money (maximum)

$5,000

Private tennis lessons with Academy instructor (45 hours per school year)

$2,600

Fifteen private lessons with Nick Bollettieri (15 hours per school year)

$7,500

Private mental conditioning sessions (45 hours per school year)

$3,900

Private performance training (45 hours per school year)

$2,025

TOTAL

$69,375

As Danny Morrissey and his parents pulled off a strip-mall-lined highway and drove through the curved stucco entrance of IMG Academies, the 16-year-old from Pepper Pike, Ohio, felt as if he had stumbled upon a movie set. In every direction he could see stately palm trees, manicured grass and packs of tanned, toned and smiling teens toting golf clubs, tennis rackets and hockey skates. "It was as if everyone had somewhere to be," Danny recalls of his first visit to the Bradenton, Fla., campus, in April 2001. "These were not your normal high school kids." Later that morning Danny interviewed to become one of them—in his case, a boarding student majoring in basketball.

It is a subject he has attacked at an accelerated pace. In the year since he enrolled at IMG as a sophomore, the 6'3" shooting guard has been transformed, as The Basketball Academy director Joe Abunassar tells it, from "a skinny shooter to an explosive all-around player who can make an impact at a Division I school." On a recent afternoon Danny, who describes his persona growing up in the Cleveland suburb as "timid," glanced at his watch like a busy executive as he strode across campus to the basketball court where he trains twice day. "As my basketball improved, I gained a lot of confidence in general," says Danny, who also has added 15 pounds of muscle (he now weighs 175) and almost two inches to his vertical leap. "It's not hard to get motivated here. You become very accustomed to life behind these walls."

At present 523 boys and girls ages nine through 18, including 443 of high school age, are chasing their dreams on the country's most comprehensive playground for athletes in training. While the kids at neighboring high schools are squeezing sports practice in between eighth period and sundown, Danny and his IMG compatriots are devoting up to six hours a day to a sport of their choice: baseball, basketball, golf, ice hockey, soccer or tennis. They are schooled by world-class coaches and eat in a dining room that dispenses fresh-squeezed juices (soda is frowned upon) and protein-packed meals (approved by the staff of the on-site fitness complex, the International Performance Institute). In the 4,500-square-foot weight room or in one of two outdoor swimming pools, students might rub elbows with pro athletes—such as Serena Williams, San Diego Chargers quarterback Drew Brees and Detroit Pistons guard Chauncey Billups—who occasionally train at the Academies. And now, with construction completed on the Pendleton School, which has grades kindergarten through 12 and is located in the heart of this athletic kingdom, academy kids are able to fulfill their scholastic requirements on a schedule that is custom-fit to each individual's athletic pursuit.

With varying degrees of talent, and often with parents and siblings in tow, aspiring champions come to Bradenton from 52 countries. Thirty-six percent are foreign-born, while the majority come from the U.S., with nearly every state represented. Some, like 15-year-old tennis prodigy Maria Sharapova of Russia, whose family has made IMG Academies its home base since 1993, play pro tour events. Most, like Danny, are just trying to improve their skills in an effort to make themselves more attractive to Division I college coaches.

A private, for-profit updated version of the government-sponsored kindergyms of Eastern Europe and Asia, IMG Academies and similar institutions cater to America's growing demand for sports-centric child rearing, offering the intensity of a summer sports camp for 36 weeks of the year. Some institutions, including the International Junior Golf Academy on Hilton Head Island, S.C., and Saddlebrook near Tampa, provide an on-site prep school. Others are affiliated with off-campus private schools.

When it comes to size, scope and star power, IMG Academies—owned and operated by parent company IMG, the world's largest athlete management and sports marketing agency—has no peer. Since IMG started its academy division by buying Nick Bollettieri's tennis school in its mid-1980s heyday ( Andre Agassi, Jim Courier and Monica Seles were students then), the Bradenton campus has been periodically expanding. The next acquisition, in '93, was the youth division of David Leadbetter's renowned golf school. Then IMG started Academies for soccer and baseball in '94, followed by hockey and basketball in 2000 and '01, respectively. What was an overgrown tomato patch when Bollettieri broke ground 24 years ago has expanded to 190 IMG-owned acres.

With a growing number of team-sport athletes making the pilgrimage to Bradenton, more of that land is being developed. In adding to the 30,000-square-foot, climate-controlled training dome (now housing a basketball court), 72 Har-Tru and clay tennis courts, four bermuda grass soccer fields, two baseball diamonds, and putt, chip and driving areas, site plans have just been completed for a 48,000-square-foot field house that could contain at least two basketball courts and an ice rink. (The Hockey Academy currently uses a rink that is 30 minutes from campus.)

"We don't think small," says Ted Meekma, a senior vice president at IMG and co-director of IMG Academies. "We build players, and word is getting around."

Raised not far from IMG's Cleveland headquarters, Danny Morrissey heard about the Academies from a classmate whose father, Bob Kain, is senior executive vice president of IMG. As a freshman at Cleveland's University School, Danny started on the varsity basketball team, but he struggled against bigger, faster opponents and suffered a knee injury. Plus, he found it hard to keep up with his studies during the season. "The homework load just killed me," he says. After his family checked into IMG Academies, he "liked the idea of concentrating on classes and basketball equally."

On a typical day Danny wakes at sunrise for a quick breakfast followed by three hours of weight training and basketball drills. After a shower and lunch he hurries across campus to the Pendleton School, where he takes three straight 1�-hour academic classes. Danny then heads to the gym for another 1�-hour basketball workout. Then, if his weekly appointment falls on that day, he'll visit the mental conditioning program to discuss, say, psychological blocks he's been experiencing at the foul line. After dinner—and, if a basketball game has caused him to miss any class time, an evening tutoring session with a member of the Pendleton teaching staff—Danny returns to the dorm suite he shares with a Brazilian basketball player and four golfers (from Tampa, Canada, Great Britain and Korea). Lights must be out by 10:30 on Sunday through Thursday nights, a little later on Friday and Saturday.

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