The winter sports season officially gets under way next Monday with the beginning of practices and tryouts for wrestling and boys and girls basketball, another sign that the warm days of summer and early fall are well behind us.
Fortunately, here in Tooele County, it doesn’t also spell the end of the year for most of our local student-athletes.
Because Tooele, Grantsville and Stansbury high schools remain relatively small, it means that the swimming, wrestling and basketball rosters are filled with names that are familiar from this fall’s football, volleyball, girls tennis, girls soccer and cross-country squads.
Count me among the firm believers in the value of participating in as many activities as possible.
Sure, some college coaches look for athletes who specialize in one sport, while others prefer multi-sport athletes. But that shouldn’t matter. Even in a big-city school with a powerhouse sports program, the vast majority of athletes won’t go on to the collegiate level.
But in a smaller school where there are more opportunities to play multiple sports, why not do it?
Where I grew up, it wasn’t at all uncommon to see three-sport athletes. If the cards fell right, there were some four-sport athletes who would run track once the soccer/baseball/softball season came to a close. One of my classmates earned a scholarship to play football at SUU and also played basketball and baseball. Another friend of mine walked on to the basketball team at the University of Utah and also was a decent high-school golfer.
But even those of us who didn’t earn college athletic scholarships benefited from playing multiple sports. We were always active. There was never a time where there wasn’t anything to do. And the more you keep teenagers active, the less likely they are to find trouble.
We also formed long-lasting bonds. When you spend hours upon hours together five days a week for nine months a year, it is hard not to. Even nearly 14 years after graduating from high school, the bond I share with former teammates remains strong. You truly learn a lot about who you can trust.
It was a unique opportunity that was offered to me at a school just a bit smaller than Grantsville High. Even Tooele and Stansbury are small enough that many kids participate in multiple sports.
I’ve seen it go the other way, too. Before I moved back to Utah just about a year ago, I found myself living in Los Angeles County in southern California. There were some schools in outlying areas, as well as some private schools, that had just a few hundred students at most. In the main area where I lived, there were eight public high schools ranging from 1,300 students to well over 4,000.
They didn’t have many students playing multiple sports. In fact, they had students being left on the outside looking in. Some kids really could have used the opportunity to be a part of a team — to feel that sense of belonging that would have added value to their school experience. Instead, they were lost in the shuffle, no doubt contributing to that school district’s sky-high truancy rate.
So, be thankful that Tooele County’s rural nature still offers our local youth the opportunity to engage in these various sports and activities. And to our local athletes — don’t be afraid to keep playing.
Just because you’re a football player or a volleyball star doesn’t mean you can’t swim. Just because you’re a star on the soccer pitch or the tennis court doesn’t mean you can’t dribble a basketball. And just because you live your athletic life five kilometers at a time as a cross-country runner doesn’t mean you can’t try enduring a few minutes on a wrestling mat.
You’re only in high school once. You’re only a kid once. Don’t be afraid to try something new.
Darren Vaughan is a veteran sports writer from Moab, Utah. While he wasn’t athletic in the slightest, it didn’t keep him from tagging along with multiple sports teams along the way. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.