BHS track star was pursued by numerous Division I schools
By Steve Bowman
Editor, The Brentwood Spirit
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.
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.
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.”
‘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.”
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.
‘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.”
‘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.”
Rivera’s official visits:
Texas at Austin
Rivera’s unofficial visits:
Schools that came to Brentwood