April 4, 2008
The way Zac Dysert figures, he’s had nine days off since the beginning of football practice last summer. The Ada standout went from the state semifinals in football, took two days off, and started up with basketball. After the basketball team advanced to the district semifinals, Dysert rested for a week and dove into baseball.And that’s just fine with him.“Sometimes I feel like I might want a day off,” Dysert said. “But I’ll take a day off and I’ll be so bored. I don’t know what to do. It’s better being over there than staying home and doing nothing.”While popular opinion is specialization has increased in recent years — some believe a busy schedule is better spent focusing on one sport in the hope of honing skills and attracting attention from colleges — the multiple-sport athlete survives.And it’s not just the role players who are filling out rosters. There are stars, just like Dysert, giving their services to other sports.Crestview football standout Briggs Orsbon also excels in basketball and baseball. Madalyn Shalter, the volleyball standout from Ottawa-Glandorf, manned the post in basketball. The list could go on.Specialization is a somewhat recent development in prep sports. Shawnee football and wrestling coach Dick West noticed a distinct increase in specialization from his high school days until his return to coach prep sports after being in the college ranks for around 20 years.According to West, the change hasn’t been for the better.“We think it’s great to cross train and compete in different seasons. We think the competition helps more than anything,” West said. “We get a lot of kids that want to train just for football, they just want to lift all of the time. What happens is if you’re lifting hard all the time it gets boring. There’s got to be fun. You’ve got to see what all that training and all that lifting is doing for you.”One of West’s athletes, Derek Geiger, was a second-team all-Western Buckeye League center in football and won the 285-pound division at the WBL wrestling championship. As a freshman and sophomore, Geiger spent the spring throwing the discus and shot put.However, he gave up throwing to concentrate on football. It paid off as Geiger will play football at Ashland University. He hung on to wrestling because of the benefits he’s seen on the football field.“Football is my life. Throwing was just something to keep me busy,” Geiger said. “I personally feel doing two sports, I’ve got a wide array of options. I was asked to wrestle at Ashland, but I turned them down. I want to focus on football.”Kenton standout Garrick Sherman gave up other sports to concentrate on basketball after seventh grade. The decision paid off for Sherman, who committed to play at Michigan State recently.“While everyone else was playing football in the fall and they had a week to get ready for the basketball season, I had been playing all fall, in tournaments, already ready for the season,” Sherman said.“I’m happy with the decision I made. I’m in a great situation now. There are great opportunities to come because I’ve worked so hard and spent all my time on basketball.”At some point, many talented athletes are forced to make a choice — whether that choice comes prior to playing at the collegiate level is often left up to the individual athlete. However, any multiple-sport athlete can have a difficult time juggling the demands of coaches who push for offseason training, which can cut into the time spent with different sports.At Ottawa-Glandorf, the coaches coordinate offseason schedules with each other. There’s also the understanding the in-season sports take precedence over offseason workouts.“We all try to get together, weed out what you’re doing in the summer, what I’m doing in the summer,” O-G volleyball coach Ann Ellerbrock said. “The kids don’t have to make a decision. We’ve already eliminated that.”There is also the fear that an athlete spending all of his or her time on one sport is more susceptible to burn out. Burnout hasn’t been an issue with Sherman. In fact, his team played 26 of a possible 31 days in July.“My legs got burnt out, but I never got sick of basketball or anything,” Sherman said.Specialization is often more prevalent in larger schools, where the numbers alone allow it to happen. The largest school in the area, Lima Senior, sees some single-sport athletes, but there isn’t as much as one might expect.Softball coach Mike Williams estimates he has one player who doesn’t play at least one other sport, with the greatest number coming from the swim team. In fact, Williams points to a pending revival of the softball program thanks to the efforts of his players in the pool.“I’d rather have them in the pool than in the weight room with me. That endurance and strength that builds their total body and core strength is phenomenal,” Williams said. “I love it when they swim.”There certainly are solid arguments for specialization, not the least of which is the possibility of injury. Ellerbrock wonders how fair it would be to O-G girls track coach Vicki Doty if an athlete came back from a club game with a sprained ankle.On the other side, the medical field, notably the American Academy of Pediatrics, warns that specialization can cause stress on specific joints and muscles because of overuse. A varied sports diet seems to encourage all-around physical well being.Sherman has done nothing to really combat any over-taxing of particular muscles or joints. He lifts with the football team, but that’s more about schedule than any physical benefit. He hasn’t seen any ill effects.The allure of showcasing talents before college coaches in numerous national tournaments and camps is often too good to pass up, no matter the risks. Even Dysert, who signed a Division I scholarship to play football at Miami (Ohio) imagines how much better he would be if he had concentrated on football.Yet the benefits of playing multiple sports seems to outweigh the negatives and sacrifices. While being recruited, Dysert and Geiger found colleges liked their versatility. And keeping busy has a much more immediate impact as well.“It keeps you out of trouble,” Dysert said.