Rivera Accepts Full Ride From Wisconsin

BHS senior Sophia Rivera moments after opening her jacket to reveal where she would attend college next fall. (All photos by Steve Bowman)
BHS senior Sophia Rivera signals to the crowd the school she plans to attend next fall. (All photos by Steve Bowman)

BHS track star was pursued by numerous Division I schools

 
By Steve Bowman
Editor, The Brentwood Spirit
Email: bowmansj@sbcglobal.net

When Sophia Rivera was a kid, outside playing, her parents usually knew where to find her. They’d scan the treetops and there she’d be.

“She’s the kind of kid who would climb on trees,” said her father, Edwin.

Now just about everybody is looking up to Sophia. At a ceremony Friday at Brentwood High School she signed a letter of intent to attend the University of Wisconsin in Madison next fall. The NCAA Division I Badgers have offered her a full-ride scholarship to throw the javelin and discus and put the shot for their women’s track and field program.

Rivera signs a letter of intent to be a Wisconsin Badger.
Rivera signs a letter of intent to be a Wisconsin Badger.

Final 3: OU, A&M, Wisconsin

Edwin and his wife Michelle Hassemer said their daughter was recruited by at least 15 Division I schools and received full-ride offers from the five she visited: Duke, Oklahoma, Texas at Austin, Texas A&M and Wisconsin. Sophia narrowed the list to Oklahoma, Texas A&M and Wisconsin before making her final choice.

“They were all very close,” Sophia said. “It really did come down to how I felt on my visit. At Wisconsin I just felt more comfortable. Part of it had to do with us having family 45 minutes down the road and two hours up north. My mom’s side of the family is all from Wisconsin.”

Rivera is the first BHS student in at least a decade to receive a full-ride athletic scholarship from an NCAA Division I school. She is the most successful female athlete in school history. Among all high school girls in the U.S. in 2015, she recorded the best shot put, second best javelin throw and No. 16 discus throw. She has the all-time Missouri high school record in the shot put and six first-place state medals.

Sophia and her brother David Rivera. He graduated from BHS in 2012 after being named all-state in football and medaling at the state wrestling meet.
Sophia Rivera’s brother David graduated from BHS in 2013 and now attends Arizona State University. “She could have signed on Wednesday or Thursday but she signed on Friday so I could come out here and be a part of it, which is awesome” he said. “To come back and see her do something like this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”

Alone in the gym

About 100 people attended the afterschool ceremony. It began with comments from BHS Athletic Director Steve Ayotte. He recalled the times he arrived at school early in the morning and saw Rivera working out alone in the gym.

“We all know about Sophia’s accomplishments on the field,” Ayotte said. “But that’s not really why everybody is here. Everybody is here for what you exemplify as a person. You absolutely are what all of us want to see in our kids, in our friends. You do the right thing when people are watching, you do the right thing when people aren’t watching.”

BHS Assistant Principal and Athletic Director Steve Ayotte says Rivera is "a model citizen."
BHS Assistant Principal and Athletic Director Steve Ayotte praises Rivera for working hard.

‘This place is amazing’

Then Ron Eichaker spoke. A former Olympic qualifier in the javelin, he has coached her since she was in the seventh grade. He praised the crowd for supporting Rivera.

“You’ve all played an incredible role in her development,” Eichaker said. “No person performs at the highest level on an island. … This place is amazing. … You get a huge hug the minute you walk in the door. It is a small community, it’s a powerful community. I hope all of you, when you leave this place, you never leave this place behind.”

Sophia Rivera's throwing coach Ron Eichaker speaks to the crowd.
Sophia Rivera’s throwing coach Ron Eichaker speaks to the crowd.

Drum roll, please

Then Sophia spoke. She thanked her teachers for accommodating her travel schedule as she competed in meets throughout the U.S. She recognized her coaches who were present, including Eichaker; Coach Hammer, her speed and strength coach from Hammer Bodies Sports Training in Maryland Heights; BHS softball coach Kelly Javier; and BHS girls basketball coach Chris Jones.

She thanked BHS administrators for installing the school’s shot put ring and discus ring, and for “being there and standing up for me.”

Finally, with a drum roll from members of the school band, she removed her warm-up jacket to reveal a University of Wisconsin shirt. The entire room cheered as she made a “W” with her fingers and her parents held up a University of Wisconsin flag behind her.

Rivera opens her jacket to reveal her school choice.
Rivera opens her jacket to reveal her school choice.
Sophia Rivera makes a "W" with her fingers moments after revealing that she will attend the University of Wisconsin next fall on a track and field scholarship. Joining her at the signing table were her parents Michelle Hassemer and Edwin Rivera.(Photo by Steve Bowman)
Sophia Rivera with her mother Michelle Hassemer and father Edwin Rivera. (Photo by Steve Bowman)

‘Very comfortable when she was there’

Edwin Rivera was not surprised his daughter chose Wisconsin.

“Michelle and I felt that she looked very comfortable when she was there,” he said. “She had a very comfortable demeanor. She got along really well with all the other athletes on the team. She had good chemistry with the coach. We got to meet the head coach who was really supportive of throws. We got to meet Mr. [Barry] Alvarez, the former football coach and now the AD. He’s very charismatic. He talked to us about Wisconsin being about the people, not just the sport, and I think that resonated with her. The environment is very productive. She’ll be a thrower for hopefully a long time, but she’ll be a productive member of society for even longer, so she feels that’s very important for her.”

Sophia Rivera and her brother David and parents Edwin Rivera and Michelle Hassemer.
Sophia Rivera with her brother David and parents Edwin Rivera and Michelle Hassemer.

‘Biggest decision of my life’

Later, after most of the crowd had left, Sophia and her parents expressed relief that the decision had been made.

“I’m just relieved that we can go on because recruiting was almost like a death march,” said Hassemer. “With all the schools lined up in a row with the javelin camp in the middle, it was hard on her.”

Explained Sophia, “It’s been a really long, tough road. I’m not a decision maker and this has been the biggest decision of my life. Personally I prayed about it, I talked to my FCA people and school guidance counselors about it, and I believe it’s where I’m supposed to be.”

BHS students and other supporters fill a lecture hall where Sophia Rivera signed her letter of intent. Those in the foreground are writing congratulatory messages to Rivera on a University of Wisconsin banner (Photo by Steve Bowman)
BHS students and other supporters fill a lecture room where Sophia Rivera signed her letter of intent. Those in the foreground are writing congratulatory messages to Rivera on a University of Wisconsin flag.

Rivera’s official visits:
Duke
Oklahoma
Texas at Austin
Texas A&M
Wisconsin

Rivera’s unofficial visits:
Alabama
Arizona State
Cal
Georgia
Stanford
UCLA
Washington

Schools that came to Brentwood
Alabama
Duke
Georgia
Kentucky
Mississippi State
Stanford
Wisconsin

At the ceremony Sophia's parents served 12 dozen boxes of "Sophie's Choice" donuts from Strange Donuts in Maplewood.
At the ceremony Sophia’s parents served 12 dozen boxes of  what Strange Donuts in Maplewood calls “Sophie’s Choice.”

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