When pressed to describe life outside the daily rigors of training and classwork, students cite optional field trips to the nearby DeSoto Square Mall or Gulf Coast beaches. There is the occasional mixer by one of the two campus swimming pools, and each May, a senior prom. "You don't have much of a social life," says Danny. "It's the one negative about the place."
Paula Creamer, a 16-year-old golfer from Pleasanton, Calif., who has been enrolled at the Academies since the fall of 2000, calls the all-business approach "the sacrifice you make to meet your goal." Which is? "To be the best," says the sophomore unblinkingly.
That quest doesn't come cheap. For room, board and sports training, which includes twice-daily workouts and weekly mental conditioning sessions, athletes specializing in baseball, basketball, ice hockey or soccer pay a basic rate of $25,000. Tennis players pay a minimum of $30,100 and golfers $33,800. Add-ons, including enrollment at Pendleton School ($11,250) and extra sessions with coaches, trainers and even massage therapists, can push a boarder's tuition near the $70,000 mark (box, right). The parents of one tennis student recently purchased a $100,000 school-year package that included hiring an Academies staffer to be the student's personal coach.
Some 30% of full-time students have at least one parent who has relocated to the 74 condominiums that IMG built on campus. These "villas," which sold for between $220,000 and $500,000, are all occupied, with some parents leasing units from private owners (60 additional condos are planned). "We weren't going to allow Paula to come here unless we could maintain the family unit," says Paul Creamer, whose flexible schedule as an American Airlines pilot allowed him and his wife, Karen, to follow their only child across the country.
While IMG kids have the option to attend two Bradenton-area private schools, most-including Danny and Paula—take advantage of the proximity of Pendleton, which is a short lob from the tennis courts. The Pendleton student body has ballooned from 105 when it opened in 2000 to 300 this fall, including the elementary wing for the siblings of athletes whose families have relocated to Bradenton.
From its flexible scheduling to the geometry teacher's use of short irons to explain angles, Pendleton caters to young athletes. Headmaster Rich Odell, who ran an arts-oriented private school in Michigan before accepting IMG's offer to create Pendleton, says that customized schooling, long available to budding artists, is a niche market ready to explode. "There are parallels between a kid who excels in the arts and a kid who excels in sports: They tend to be very good learners and have plates so full that they have little time to fool around," says Odell. To address those needs, Pendleton is structured like a college, in which kids take no more than three courses a day in a time block—morning, afternoon or evening—that fits into their sport's daily regimen.
"It's cool to go to school with people who understand you," says Paula, whose California classmates "just didn't get it" when she wasn't around for sleepovers. The drawback, says her dad, is "the lack of school spirit. My kid doesn't experience pep rallies and all of that traditional high school stuff."
That is slowly beginning to change. Last year Pendleton fielded its first interscholastic team, in boys' basketball, and will begin regulation play in baseball next spring. The school competes as an independent member of the Florida High School Activities Association (FHSAA). The Academies' 120 soccer players fill eight travel teams (five boys' squads and three girls') that compete in either the Super Y or USA leagues, and IMG's two hockey teams play an independent schedule against Midgett division clubs around the country and Bantam teams in Florida. Although baseball and basketball players fare well against public and private schools in and around Bradenton, Pendleton has told the FHSAA that its teams will not participate in postseason play. "We could be seen as having an unfair advantage because our kids practice so much," says Odell. "Besides, the main concern of our athletes is individual development, not wins and losses."
Coach Elliot Washington, whose Southeast High of Bradenton basketball team lost to Pendleton last year, thinks that the IMG team (17-7 in 2001-02) will improve this winter with recent additions such as 6'11" senior center Jermaine Bell (who two years ago made an oral commitment to St. John's) and junior point guard Taurean Green (son of former NBA player Sidney Green). "High-profile kids like these will probably draw others," says Washington. "Last year the team was solid but not overwhelming—you could tell there were a couple of kids from nice families who could pay the tuition."
Danny Morrissey calls the absence of the sense of team unity "kind of a bummer," but he reasons that if state championships were his goal, he would still be in Ohio. "My University School team would probably have beaten Pendleton last year," he says.