A look at high school athletes

Being a high school athlete is not an easy task. There are many different challenges being a high school athlete entails. To be successful, there is a major time commitment involved where the athlete must learn to balance sports, school and social time effectively.
    While high school sports often provide the young athletes with some of the best memories of their lives, many difficult decisions must be made. One challenge that these young individuals often face is what sport(s) to play throughout their career.
    Some athletes choose three sports to play from the start and stick with those sports throughout their entire athletic careers. Others choose one sport and focus solely on that sport.
    This raises a question that has recently received national attention: Should athletes play more than one sport in high school?
    Now clearly, there are positives and negatives to both sides of the argument. It seems though that the majority of people around sports find it beneficial for an athlete to play more than one sport in high school.
    Even some of the best professional athletes in the world tend to have participated in more than one sport in high school. For example, LeBron James was an all-state wide receiver for the St. Vincent-St. Mary’s football team back when he was in high school in Akron, Ohio.
    New York Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge was a star football and basketball player at his high school. These are just a couple examples of professional stars today that have found success in more than one sport throughout their athletic careers.
    For many young athletes before they reach high school, it is difficult to see which sports they enjoy and which ones they do not. Often times, parents or peers influence what these kids do at a young age. But overall, it is the kids’ time to get a taste of what each sport brings to the table.
    For some young athletes, like Lexington sophomore standout Jayden Standish, playing multiple sports is a lifestyle. Standish participates in four sports (volleyball, basketball, softball and track), and is involved in volleyball and softball travel teams in the summer.
    “It all kind of started in third grade,” Standish said. “I played soccer at the time, and a coach was watching me play. He asked me if I would play on his basketball team.”
    From there, according to Standish she began to try numerous other sports. This is how she became a four-sport athlete at LHS, which is almost unheard of as a high school athlete.
    Being from such a small school, however, makes it crucial for athletes like Standish to get involved in multiple sports.
    “I have had great support,” Standish said. “I have different friend groups in each sport and just absolutely love it. Small-town teams here in Lexington need people to play more than one sport because we don’t have many kids.”
    Other athletes, like Illinois State redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Jared Rients, see a different side to the argument. Rients, a former standout at Fieldcrest High School, decided to just stick with football during his high school career.
    “Football was my favorite sport,” Rients said. “I really thought I could use the offseason to get bigger and stronger, rather than play a sport that I wasn’t as dedicated to.
    “It is really hard to get really good at one sport and maybe take it to the next level if you’re playing other sports,” Rients said. “You don’t have as much time with that one sport.”
    While Rients made the decision to focus on football, he still sees many benefits in having high school athletes play more than one sport.
    “I would never discourage kids to do more than one sport,” Rients said. “It will give you that team aspect. You can pick up different skills from different sports. Obviously, you don’t use the same skills for each sport but those skills you gain will stick with you for every sport.”
    As Rients mentioned, the team aspect of playing multiple sports in high school is a big key to the argument. For coaches like Prairie Central softball skipper Tim McGuire, who has also guided baseball and basketball programs for the Hawks in his 33 years of coaching, the competitive nature of being on a team is why he feels athletes should play more than one sport.
    “I think kids have lost that ability to compete,” McGuire said. “Some kids think that they can play the sport and not work at it outside, but sometimes they need some time away and sometimes that is in another sport.”
    While McGuire is a big advocate of kids getting involved with more than one sport, he also realizes that you have to be “all in” if you are going to play any sport.
    “If you’re not putting everything into that sport you’re playing, then you’re not competing,” McGuire said. “There are going to be challenges. Don’t be afraid to fail at something. Some kids don’t want to be a role player in one sport, they want to be a stud in ‘my sport.’ Well, we need role players, especially with small schools.”
    The ability to step out of your comfort zone is something that is also considered in this argument. For college coaches, like Illinois State pitching coach and former Ridgeview Mustangs star Michael Kellar, the ability to play more than just one sport in high school is definitely a positive. Kellar was a three-sport athlete at Ridgeview.
    “I want to see guys out of their comfort zone,” Kellar said. “Guys who may be the best pitcher in the state but may not be the best basketball player. How do they compete? I want winners and guys who compete.
    “I want to see guys who want to win not only on the baseball field when they are in their comfort zone,” he said. “But maybe when they’re the sixth or seventh man in basketball or blocking down field as a wide receiver in football.”
    While it is safe to say that both sides to the argument are fair, it is evident that the benefits of participating in more than one sport in high school outweigh the negatives.
    Athletes not only gain certain skill sets in other sports that they may not gain by playing one sport, but they also are part of a team. They are competing in games, which they would not find if they were practicing for a different sport. Memories and friendships are also gained through each sport.
    Although there seems to be more and more kids trying to specialize in one sport in today’s society, playing other sports during the offseason is definitely something for each individual athlete to consider.