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How athletes balance two varsity sports in one season

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Terry and John O’Connor discuss the effect the lacrosse community has had on their family since their son, Brendan, died suddenly this past September.
Matt Allibone, [email protected]

Hit with injuries and a stomach bug, the Spring Grove lacrosse team had 15 players dressed before their game against Dallastown on April 16 at Papermakers Stadium.

The Dallastown staff couldn’t help but notice the lack of numbers, according to Spring Grove coach Scott Toman.

“I know the Dallastown coach, and he goes, ‘Is this your team?'” Toman recalled.

Unbeknownst to the Wildcats, three starters for the Rockets — senior Madison Moore, junior Colson Martin and sophomore Brock Martin — would arrive about 30 minutes from the first faceoff.

It was enough time to get dressed and warmed up, although, in some ways, they already were — the trio were fresh off a track and field meet at York High.

Brock Martin throws in field events, Moore is a sprinter and Colson Martin is an accomplished long jumper, who earned a state medal in the 2019 indoor season. 

They all contributed in an 8-7 double-overtime win against Dallastown, a third-straight victory for the Rockets. Colson Martin assisted on the game-winning goal.

Dual-sport athletes are a rarity in the area, but the right kind of student in the right surroundings can lead to success.

There are drawbacks — namely physical and mental fatigue — but it ultimately comes down to how a specific student can handle juggling two sports on top of school.

Spring Grove athletic trainer Mike Fleming, who monitors Moore and the Martin brothers closely, said he would not recommend it for everybody.

“I’m a firm believer of multi-sport athletes, but I think one sport per season is much more manageable for a high school-age athlete,” Fleming said.

More: ‘Everybody loved him:’ York Catholic honors late athlete as family hopes to stop tragedies

Spring Grove track and field coach Eric Baumgardner called it “a learning curve for the kids.”

“I wouldn’t want it any other way because I want those three kids on my team,” he said.

Play two spring sports? ‘Why not?’

Colson Martin played lacrosse before he ever leapt into a sand pit.

His mother, a former track athlete, encouraged him to try the sport, thinking he might excel.

Entering high school, Colson didn’t want to drop one sport over the other.

“I found a lot of success in track and field, but then I’ve always wanted to be on the lacrosse team,” he said.

He had coaches that were open to it, and it’s become more manageable each year.

Colson’s younger brother, Brock, followed suit once he entered high school. As a javelin and discus thrower in track and field, it was less taxing for him to play two sports.

Colson helped convince his lacrosse teammate Moore, a speedy guard on the Spring Grove basketball team, to take part in track and field for his senior year.

“I just thought, my senior year, why not throw something into the mix I can turn out to be really good at?” Moore said.

READ: York Suburban boys’ lacrosse will try to keep focus after 11 players dismissed from team

Unlike his brother, Brock Martin’s primary sport is lacrosse. He plays attack and has scored 10 goals this season.

“Being successful at two sports is awesome,” Brock said. “You just feel so good about yourself.”

Two sports in a single season ‘not easy’

The PIAA has no mandate when it comes to an athlete playing two sports in a single season outside of academic eligibility.

It falls to the school districts to determine how to respond when a student wants to pursue two sports, according to YAIAA executive director Chuck Abbott.

“It all comes down to the kid and whether they can handle it primarily academically but also physically,” said Spring Grove athletic director Greg Wagner.

Wagner makes it a point to have a conversation with a student when they decide to do this.

“When a kid does come to me, I try to stress to them it’s not easy,” Wagner said.

The ability to maintain grades is a key component. 

“Coaches are on us about that, anyway,” Moore said.

The lacrosse team checks players’ grades every Wednesday.

“They’ve got to find time for their homework somewhere, so being good students really helps, too,” Toman said.

RELATED: How ‘a ton of horses’ have kept South Western track and field unbeaten

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There are several items that need to be hashed out before the start of a season in which an athlete is playing two sports, according to Doug Bohannon, the ELCO athletic director. Bohannon’s son, sophomore Braden Bohannon, is a four-sport athlete trying out baseball and track and field for the first time.

“We have a plan in place where the athlete must talk to both coaches, the athlete must pick a primary sport, both coaches must approve it,” Bohannon said.

Picking a primary sport allows dual-sport students to make decisions and eliminate confusion amid scheduling conflicts.

The guidelines for a dual-sport athletes are laid out in the ELCO student handbook, Bohannon said.

Bohannon, in his 22nd year as ELCO’s athletic director, also sits on the District 3 committee. The topic of dual-sport athletes has never been brought up, he said.

“It’s something that could go badly, I guess, if the coaches didn’t want to cooperate,” Wagner said. “We haven’t had any coaches not willing to cooperate.”

Coaches ‘fine with sharing’

At Spring Grove, Moore and the Martin brothers are in constant communication with their coaches about their schedules. In turn, the coaches are keeping track of their athletes, trying not to overwork them.

“When we have a game day, (Baumgardner)’s not out there working or killing them at their practice, and we try to do the same thing,” Toman said.

Scheduling conflicts are, at times, unavoidable.

Wagner has been able to move some lacrosse games later in the day so the track athletes can come straight from a meet after they finish competing in their respective events.

“You get to the point where one impacts the other, and it’s hard,” Baumgardner said.

More: Spring sports are here: Local high school teams, storylines to watch in 2019

Before the spring sports season, Colson Martin, who intends to compete in track and field in college, pondered dropping lacrosse.

Last year, Martin won the YAIAA long jump title with a mark of 21 feet, 10.25 inches. He has continued to improve, finishing third in the District 3 Class 3A meet and taking 12th at states as a sophomore with better marks.

Martin wants to top the school long jump record, set at 22-7 by Aaron Lewis in 1998, before he graduates.

“He’s a very good lacrosse player,” Toman said. “He’s a phenomenal track athlete, so we don’t want to jeopardize that, but we also didn’t want to lose him, so we just had a lot of offseason conversations about that — how we were going to use him this year.”

Previously a midfielder, Spring Grove moved Martin to play more defense and long stick midfield this season. At times, he’s included on extra-man offense.

“He’s happy with it,” Toman said. “It’s working out. It’s not as much on his legs, so he’s not dead tired at the end, like dragging himself off the field because he’s just run for an hour and a half straight.”

READ: YAIAA track and field: Check out the top returning athletes in 2019

Baumgardner called it “not ideal,” but prefers having Martin split time than not having him at all.

“You don’t want to be selfish, but, in a perfect world, you want a Colson to yourself,” he said. “But the lacrosse team needs him, and they’re fine with sharing, so we’re fine with it, too.”

Athletes need to stay healthy

In the span of one week, the Spring Grove trio played three lacrosse games, competed in a track and field dual meet and an invitational.

“The last thing you want to do is burn a kid out,” Wagner said. “That’s not going to be beneficial to anybody.”

Sometimes in the fall, high school soccer players kick field goals for the football team. Competing in track and field and lacrosse is a significant step up.

“This is a new challenge because of the amount of running that these three do, but overall it’s been manageable,” Fleming said.

Fleming plays an important role when it comes to managing their bodies.

“They have no problem going to (Fleming) if something’s nagging or they have something that doesn’t feel quite right,” Toman said.

When it comes to Moore and the Martins, Fleming’s role is to do recovery and preventative treatments.

“They’re running a lot more volume of yardage than everybody else,” Fleming said.

Fleming checks in with the athletes daily, getting them warmed up through pre-participation exercises. After events, the athletes use treatments to cool themselves down, like cold whirlpools as well and ice and compression machines called Game Readys.

If one of the athletes is feeling extra sore or dealing with an injury, Fleming might have them cut back on their training.

On a week in which they wind up participating in as many as five competitions, the athletes make sure to get sufficient rest, stay hydrated and eat a lot because of all the calories they burn.

Prior to a recent lacrosse practice, Moore spent an hour in the whirlpool to get warmed up and stretched out.

Both coaches stated that playing two sports probably takes the biggest toll on Moore because he does the most running. The midfielder has scooped 51 ground balls in lacrosse this season.

“(Moore)’s motor is constantly running, and he’s always up and down the field,” Toman said. “He never tires. We try and take him out. He’s like, ‘No, I’m good, coach.'”

Baumgardner said it must be mentally draining for the trio as well. He believes it affects their performances in the respective sports.

On the other hand, Toman found he didn’t have to worry about those athletes being out of shape.

“Of course, it affects (performance) because the amount you put into each sport, especially if you want to win, but, at the same time, we’re all well-conditioned athletes, so it’s not that big of a fatigue difference,” Moore said.

Fleming feels he has a good gauge on the statuses of the three lacrosse and track athletes because of the constant communication. He said he would intervene, and potentially shut an athlete down for a period of time, if he was concerned about their health.

Helping to power two teams 

The lacrosse team is two games below .500, but Toman believes the team is coming together after a shaky start to the season. 

“We struggled early on just trying to find our rhythm,” he said. “Some of it had to do with kids that got hurt, kids that were sick and actually some of the track kids being a little behind where they needed to be.”

Toman has a motto for the squad: “Respect everyone. Fear no one.” 

Moore and the Martin brothers have certainly shown fearlessness in how they’ve tested their limits this spring.

“Even though this is my first year (as a dual-sport athlete), I can see how far I can push myself and know how bad I want something, to be good at it,” Moore said.

All three are eyeing personal bests in the track and field postseason. For Colson Martin, that means returning to states and qualifying for outdoor nationals.

Baumgardner would like for Colson to get “dialed in” on the long jump as the season progresses in order for him to meet those goals.

Students who play multiple sports become more well-rounded athletes, Wagner said. However, he does not envision dual-sports becoming a trend because teens are choosing to specialize at younger ages.

In Wagner’s view, high school for a student is about the experiences they gain along the way. Wagner wouldn’t want to deny an athlete what could be a valuable experience, like playing two sports simultaneously, even if it’s a strenuous one.

“I think it takes a special kind of athlete,” Wagner said.

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