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Football

Take 2: Are summer high school sports schedules too much for athletes?

Harvard's Todd Lehman runs a drill Wednesday during football practice at Harvard High School.
Harvard's Todd Lehman runs a drill Wednesday during football practice at Harvard High School.

It’s still a month before fall sports season officially kicks off. But that doesn’t mean that the athletes aren’t already preparing. Under Illinois High School Association by-laws, each coach is permitted 25 days to work with their team during the summer. Is that the right number? 

DeFabo: Last week I was out at Harvard football practice and was talking with some of their three-sport athletes. On a given day, they get to the school at 3 p.m., lift weights and practice until almost 7 p.m. Then they’re at basketball practice from 7 until 9:30 p.m. Meanwhile, they’ve just missed baseball practice. For years, people have been bemoaning the decline of the three-sport athlete. But with all of the directions kids are pulled, it’s becoming almost impossible to keep up with the commitments. A two-sport athlete at Harvard just spent six and a half hours at the school. And this is supposed to be the “off-season.” What are your views, Jon? Are kids being overextended or am I just soft?   

Styf: Let me generalize here for a minute. Coaches say they love multi-sport athletes, as long as it doesn’t interfere much with their plans. There have long been issues locally with girls basketball players also playing club volleyball in the winter. What is the priority? Where do you go? If I’m an athlete, I want the college scholarship and want to go to the showcase events. If I’m a coach or a teammate, I don’t like missing players at important times. Much was made out of Tracking Football extrapolating that 224 of 256 players drafted in this year’s NFL draft played two or more sports in high school. Heck, it was even repeated with an inaccurate inflammation. But, the reality is, most (63 percent) of those were football players also competing in track and field, which helps football speed and doesn’t interfere schedulewise. Forty-eight percent of those played basketball and 10 percent played baseball. Tracking Football said, when I asked, that they didn’t see a ton of athletes who played early in their career and then went down to one sport later. That’s the opposite of what I assumed, based on guys like Bryan Bulaga or Jordan Getzelman. At smaller schools, like Harvard, I’m guessing this is a larger issue than at huge schools.

DeFabo: It’s definitely more of an issue at smaller schools that need to share athletes just to fill the roster. At Harvard, it seems like they recognize this. The baseball coach, Donnie Nolen, tells football players to skip his baseball practices to lessen the burden. Cary-Grove is similar. The coaches section off parts of the summer for different sports so that it takes the decision out of the kids’ hands. Even still, it’s a major time commitment. And like you said, add on the travel baseball and AAU basketball. That doesn’t leave much time for a summer job, and it definitely doesn’t leave them much time to be a kid and relax by the pool.

Styf: Relaxing is for those who finish in second place though, right Mike? #riseandgrind. I get it if you’re an elite athlete, I guess I don’t get it if you’re not. I had plenty of fun during the time I wasn’t playing sports back in high school. I wonder how much that happens now? Maybe that explains why I wasn’t necessarily good at high school athletics, but it really doesn’t matter much to me now. Am I unsuccessful because I didn’t get those life lessons taught by team sports? Is tennis a team sport?  

DeFabo: Only if it’s doubles ... I’m sure there are plenty of lessons to be learned outside of a team sport. Like how to execute a perfect cannonball. Or that punching holes in a mason jar won’t keep your fireflies from dying after a day. Oh, and that all of your friends are cheaters and open their eyes underwater when you play Marco Polo. 

Styf: It’s tough. In football, not sure there is a perfect solution. You need practice to keep it safe. But how much practice is safe? Restrictions keep coming. In states like Florida and Texas, they have spring football. It officially counts as a spring sport, comes late spring, and they play an exhibition game at the end. Yeah, they work in the summer too. But spring is a good time for new system installs, conditioning and kind of figuring out what you have. Here, it’s trickier and the summer is when that needs to happen. I took a lot of cool trips with my family all over the country during the summer growing up. If you’re a top athlete, however, you can’t really do that. Pretty much, you have to choose.

DeFabo: I would agree that coaches should be permitted some interaction with players. When I worked in West Virginia, there were strict rules about coaches interacting with players during the summer and everyone was always looking for loopholes. The team captains would organize informal practices to get around it. But that’s not productive or safe. I guess my point is that there’s a fine line between working hard and burning kids out. My feeling is that if summer practices took a small step back, more kids would be motivated to play multiple sports. 

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