Multi-sport athletes becoming rare breed in an era of specialization

Published 12:03 am Wednesday, April 13, 2016

LAPLACE —Riverside Academy’s Tyler Gauthier did it all on the football field.

He played wide receiver, punted, kicked extra points and handled the kickoffs. By the end of the games the senior usually was exhilarated but exhausted.

A few of the local high school athletes who play as many sports as they can are Riverside Academy’s Jordan Loving, left, and St. Charles Catholic’s Lela Hill.

A few of the local high school athletes who play as many sports as they can are Riverside Academy’s Jordan Loving, left, and St. Charles Catholic’s Lela Hill.

Once football season was over, however, Gauthier didn’t just go home and rest on his laurels. He moved on to soccer. When that was over, he moved on to baseball. When he can fit it in, he even runs a little track.

“Yeah, you get sore every once in a while, but everything is worth it,” Gauthier said.

Gauthier is not your typical high school athlete, but he’s not a rarity either, especially in St. John the Baptist Parish where there are three small Class 2A schools led by coaches who believe in diversity and encourage it.

“I certainly encourage it,” said Riverside head football coach Bill Stubbs. “I can give you 100 reasons why it’s a positive experience on the high school level and only one or two negatives. Look, they’re only going to go through high school one time. They’ll never again experience that same type of enjoyment. ”

St. Charles Catholic head coach Frank Monica agreed. In fact, he benefitted from being a multi-sport athlete himself.

“I was an All-State football player at Lutcher, but I signed a scholarship to play baseball,” Monica said. “It certainly benefitted me. All of my kids did it. It’s something we encourage and promote.”

The key, however, is to have coaches who agree with that philosophy. In an age where so many coaches and parents are making their children specialize in sports, the do-it-all athlete is becoming a rarity.

“They’re starting to feel like it can’t be done, that they just can’t do it all,” Monica said. “Every coach needs to be supportive.”

There are some that stand out. St. Charles Catholic’s Lela Hill played volleyball and basketball, is playing softball and still finds time to compete for the track team.

Comets senior Jacob Jensen played football, baseball, golf and also competes on the swim team. He said he has several friends who play two or three sports, but not four like him.

“Sometimes I might get tired, but I work through it,” he said. “I like doing it. I don’t really have a favorite. I wouldn’t want to give one up for sure.”

West St. John senior Lamore Boudoin is another four-sport athlete. He played running back on the football team, guard on the basketball team, plays infield on the baseball team and competes in the long jump, triple jump and a pair of relay teams on the track team.

“My friends and family help me balance it all out with my teachers,” Boudoin said. “My coaches really push me to play different sports. They help me.”

Boudoin knows he’ll likely have to choose only one once he gets to college. He already has an offer from Southern University to play football.

“I’ll miss basketball and baseball,” he said, even though both teams struggled through their seasons. “We just decided to go out and do our best and have some fun.”

Of course there are coaches who do not like to see their athletes spread so thinly. Some want their athletes to focus on one sport. Some fear injury.

Stubbs, who spent 15 seasons at Class 4A Salmen, said he had a bit of an adjustment to the cross-training athletes at Riverside. He also had a fellow coach at Salmen who did not want to share.

“It’s a real fine line there because you have to have all coaches on board with it,” Stubbs said. “To go from one sport to another to another, I’ve seen that it certainly makes them better. Coaches hide behind the fact that they open themselves up to injury. I’m not going to deny that. It does happen. For a coach to say, ‘I don’t want my kid injured,’ that’s selfish.”

Riverside Academy sophomore Jordan Loving nearly had to give it all up. During the 2015 baseball season, the 6-foot-3 Loving thought he pulled a back muscle. Eventually he was diagnosed with two fractured vertebrae.

After some time in a back brace and nearly all of the 2015 football season on the sideline, Loving was able to return to the basketball court in January. Now he’s playing third base on the baseball team.

“I’m like an old man with a hip replacement,” Loving joked. “Ibuprofen is a wonderful thing. I’ll play as many sports as I can for as long as I can.”