DELPHOS — Trey Smith is an exceptional teenager. For one thing, his schedule sounds more like that of an adult.
“I’m up at 6 a.m. and at school by 7:30. I get there early to do extra homework or talk to a teacher, because there aren’t any distractions,” said the 18-year-old Jefferson High School senior. The school day includes classes in Advanced Placement Literature, Advanced Placement Calculus and physics. He maintains a 4.0 grade point average.
At 3 p.m., Smith, a top player for the Jefferson Wildcats’ basketball team, is in the gym for a workout with his dad, Coach Marc Smith. After that, he hits the weight room. By 6 p.m, this member of The Lima News’ 2015 Scholar-Athlete Team is home for dinner. Then it’s more homework. He’s in bed by 10 p.m.
“By that time, when the head hits the pillow, it’s lights out,” said Smith.
Then he gets up and does it all over again.
“Every day is mapped out the same way,” he said.
Exceptional? Yes, especially when you consider Trey Smith’s achievements, on the court and in the classroom. But extraordinary? No. Experts say this kind of jam-packed schedule is typical for high school students today, as they juggle not only athletics, but extracurricular activities, social lives and part-time jobs.
“By and large, we’re seeing more and more students who are burning the candle at both ends,” said Stephen Graef, a Columbus-based sports psychologist and psychotherapist who counsels student athletes at The Ohio State University. “When you have college admissions getting more and more competitive, there’s pressure to not only be good students, but to get involved in other things.”
Sports are just one element of high school life, but they’re a big element, especially in Ohio. Annual surveys by the National Federation of State High School Associations show participation in high school athletics has increased every year since the mid-1980s. During the last school year, 7.8 million students took part in some kind of high school athletics program, a 16 percent increase since the 2000-2001 academic year. Ohio, seventh in the nation in population, ranked fifth in the nation in high school sports participation, behind Texas, California, New York and Illinois, with 320,000 student athletes.
Participation isn’t the only thing that’s growing. So is the intensity level of each sport’s demands. Students are not only practicing after school, during the academic year; they’re working out on weekends, and, increasingly, during school breaks.
“A big part of my season is the summer and having kids running miles,” said Elida High School cross-country coach Mark Altstaetter. “They’ve [also] got demands from basketball, they’ve got camps for wrestling. I’ve seen where there are so many demands on them, sometimes, they don’t have a summer.”
That can be especially true if a teen plays two sports in one season, like cross-country and soccer, or plays tennis and sings in the choir, or works part-time, as the 2011 Census found 28 percent of high school students do. More than ever, kids need to balance work and life in the same way adults do. And adults are the ones who must teach them how to do that.
“It’s all about time management and helping them set themselves up for success,” said Dr. Alexis Nadler of Leipsic. Her children, Shannon, Liam and Kelly, excelled at both sports and academics during their high school years. She said she and her husband, Tim, established times in which their children were expected to do their homework. They set goals for their children, too, like getting into the National Honor Society. And they practiced what they preached, together, as a family.
“The TV wasn’t on until all studies were done,” said Nadler. “Our kids accused us of being Amish because we didn’t do the TV thing the way other kids did.”
Lisa Ciminillo, a guidance counselor at Lima Senior High School, said she’s sat down with plenty of students to go through their notebooks and backpacks and help them develop an organization system.
“They need a plan from the beginning,” she said. “If they can use some type of calendar or use to-do lists, that’s a big help.”
Ciminillo said that, in her 30 years as an educator, she’s seen big changes in the way teachers, parents and coaches work together to help a child balance competing demands on their time and stay focused on their schoolwork. At Lima Senior, there’s an online grading system that provides coaches with up-to-the-minute information on how their players are doing academically. Parents, too, see these grades, and call with questions or concerns.
“We get more parents’ phone calls than I remember dealing with in the past,” she said.
And more and more coaches are incorporating what the school calls “mandatory study tables” into their practices.
“I saw the girls’ soccer team walking down the hall after school in their uniforms, and I asked them if they were going to an away game,” said Ciminillo. “They said, no, they were going to the library!”
With all these support structures in place for the busy student athlete, there would appear to be no room for failure, for kids who, despite all the help, can’t keep all the balls they’re juggling in the air. Indeed, local coaches and educators couldn’t recall anybody who had to drop a sport because their grades were suffering.
“I can’t think of one kid,” said John Edinger, Trey Smith’s principal at Delphos Jefferson High School and an assistant football coach for the Wildcats. “I think it’s a lot of tribute to the families we have. We have a blue-collar ethic around here.”
But psychologist Graef has witnessed burnout among some of the student athletes he counsels at OSU. “Usually you’ll see a disinterest [in their sport]. Maybe they’re a little less passionate than they were before. If you see someone worrying a significant amount, it’s a good idea to check in,” he said. “Burnout doesn’t happen overnight.”
Graef said the biggest sacrifice he sees student athletes making is not in their studies or their sports performance or even their social and family lives.
“It’s calm,” he said. “There’s a significant amount of anxiety, the pressure to perform, to get to the next level.” Graef said parents should not be afraid of talking to their child about whether they’ve taken on too much. “It’s not going to push them off their rocker,” he said. “Kids are pretty resilient.”
Trey Smith said his dad — his coach, on court and off — motivates him and helps him when he’s feeling squeezed for time or feeling the weight of the pressure to perform. “My dad is good about envisioning the future and where you can go if you keep up the work ethic,” he said. “The goal is to be the best person, the best leader I can be, and to help others.”
The kid with the grown-up schedule sounds wise beyond his years.
“The demands on our time are never going to end, whether it’s going to college and having a job or going to work and having a family. This can be overwhelming, even for adults,” said Lima Senior’s Ciminillo. “Balancing school and work and sport is a great life lesson.”
Reach Amy Eddings at 567-242-0379 or on Twitter @lima_eddings.