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The NRHEG Senior Athletes of the Year has an important stipulation: you must be a three-sport athlete. At times in recent history, there has been a small sample from which to choose the award winners.

What has happened to the three-sport athlete? There was a time in the not-so-distant past that there was a plethora of kids playing fall, winter, and spring. Suddenly, that number has been slashed, and in a school the size of NRHEG, that is troublesome.

Full disclosure: I was not a three-sport athlete myself. When school sports rolled around in middle school, my parents told me to pick two sports. The reasons for this are irrelevant now, but I settled on basketball and baseball. There are times I regret not playing football, but I was still part of the band and even helped with videotaping football games, so I remained involved.

Why are students today not staying involved in all three seasons of the school year? There are a variety of reasons that I hear. One I rarely hear is that a kid doesn’t like the sport anymore. I’m sure it’s the case sometimes, but it’s not a reason often given.

Kids talk about needing to work. It’s too bad that they’re passing on some great memories and opportunities to focus on money. I always worked around my sports schedule, spending more time working on weekends and during the summer. I realize gas costs more than the 95 cents a gallon it did when I was in high school, and college costs more than the $4000-5000 a year I paid. Still, to forego the teamwork skills learned seems a big price to pay for that money.

The more disturbing trend is specialization in a sport and year-round training. When I was part of the baseball board, we often bemoaned the “good old days” when football season went from August to October, basketball from November to February, and baseball from March until July. You might go to some open gyms for basketball between school seasons or go to a passing camp in July, but that was it for mixing these seasons.

Now we have athletes participating nearly twelve months in one sport, especially basketball and volleyball. This is difficult to swallow, even for a basketball coach like me. When you look historically, these offseason programs, such as JO volleyball and Pacesetter and MYAS basketball, started small. When more people started participating, it started a trend. Soon, players and coaches felt they had to take part, for fear of not doing that and failing in the next season.

I’ve heard a number of coaches say they wish they didn’t have to keep working with their players in the summer, but feel they have to in order to meet expectations of players, parents, and community. Since so many are participating in summer leagues, if you don’t, no matter how you fare the following season, anything short of a state tournament will be blamed on not working hard enough in the offseason.

Except there doesn’t seem to be an offseason anymore. These kids are driven and pushed until we see numbers drop, even in those sports. Kids are simply burned out after playing 50+ games a year. But it’ll be hard to ratchet back unless the MSHSL puts some policies in place, preventing so much of this offseason rigmarole.

Carlie Wagner is a perfect example of what our athletes should be doing. Nobody would have begrudged Carlie if she would’ve said she wasn’t playing volleyball or running track. Why risk the investment you have coming in a full ride to college for basketball? However, she has finished her senior year as a three-sport athlete, showing how dedication to your teammates pays off in being a well-rounded individual.

Carlie is a unique athlete; we won’t see many like her. But I keep hearing about kids specializing in one sport, to the detriment of others. I haven’t seen any other athletes at NRHEG that look to be scholarship Division I stars. Might some kids play a sport at a college level? Sure, but we have smaller numbers in so many of our sports because they’re playing volleyball or basketball all spring and have abandoned their classmates, who work so hard for them in the sport of their choice. I’m pretty sure you’re not hitting a volleyball or shooting a basketball every day. If you truly want to get better at a sport, you find time among your other activities. Follow the example Carlie set.

If you’re not interested in three sports, that’s fine. But be active! Find other things to do, such as drama club, band, and other student organizations. These are great resume builders, both as you go to college and find a job some day. If your resume simply lists one activity in school, you’re digging yourself a deeper hole to climb out of and impress others. The more you can show you can do many different things at once, the more likely an employer will want to pay you the big bucks you will not be getting as a professional athlete.

Word of the Week: This week’s word is bumptious, which means self-assertive in an obnoxious way, as in, “The columnist’s seemingly bumptious tone made sense upon a second reading.” Impress your friends and confuse your enemies!

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