Three-sport athletes harder to find in high school ranks

By Will LeBlond
Tompkins Weekly

Get out of the house and play all day until the sun goes down, then do it all again the following day.

Photo Provided Dryden’s Veronica Cator-Szymanski, right, is a member of the Purple Lions’ swimming, basketball and lacrosse teams.
Photo Provided
Dryden’s Veronica Cator-Szymanski, right, is a member of the Purple Lions’ swimming, basketball and lacrosse teams.

That was how countless young boys and girls grew up in America, playing plenty of sports and staying active. Those young kids then grew up to play multiple sports for their local high school and many of them even held the label of “three-sport athlete.”
Fast-forward to 2016 and that type of student-athlete has become difficult to find as the addition of AAU, travel sports and the never ending pursuit of an athletic scholarship are a few factors that have driven athletes to try and hone their craft in just one sport in order to succeed at the next level. It is not just the drive to be great at one sport, but it is also a matter of time and how much students can put towards athletics, while still excelling in the classroom, that has started to drive the once frequently seen “three-sport athlete” towards the way of the dodo bird.
One man who knows all about the multiple sport athlete is Ithaca College baseball coach George Valesente. He not only played three sports in high school, but earned varsity letters in soccer, basketball and baseball at IC, which is something that will undoubtedly never happen again. Now, as he preps for his 39th season at the helm of the Bomber baseball program, Valesente gave some insight as to why the modern sporting landscape doesn’t accommodate the “three-sport athlete” anymore and when the shift started.
“When I returned to IC to get my masters (degree) in 1970 or 1971, more sports were expanding their schedules,” said Valesente. “There was fall baseball and there were other sports that were going into the non-traditional season, which was drawing some athletes away from their other sports as well.”
Valesente also noted how AAU and travel teams have played roles in eliminating the multiple sport athlete, but as a recruiter of college talent, he is still in favor of bringing in players to his program that have demonstrated that they can succeed in multiple sports.
“Prior to them approving spring football, we used to have multiple baseball-football combinations here at IC,” said Valesente. “I was always very much in favor of that, I think that multiple sport athletes acquire many different skills and attitudes and determinations from what they’ve learned and I believe there’s a lot of carryover in the skill orientation of it.

“I believe playing multiple sports keeps you fresher mentally,” he added. “I think guys can play one sport all year long to the point of burnout.”
Avoiding burnout in the sense of not having an abundance of free time is seen by college and high school athletes alike as a pair of Dryden High School three-sport athletes shared their day-to-day routine and the challenges of staying on track.
Seniors Veronica Cator-Szymanski and Trevor Gardner both play three sports throughout the academic year. Cator-Szymanski applies her skill to the Purple Lions’ swimming, basketball and lacrosse teams, while Gardner is on the football, basketball and golf teams. Both are also actively involved in extracurricular activities away from the athletic arena as well, which can create a difficult challenge of maintaining all of the different aspects in their lives.
“It does get a little challenging just to fit everything in,” said Cator-Szymanski. “By the end of the year I’m pretty tired, but it also enriches my life and gives me a lot of exposure to people that I don’t necessarily see in school all the time.”
The balancing act as described by Cator-Szymanski is not easy, but she and Gardner alike tackle the challenge every year.
“You just love the challenge,” said Gardner. “I love getting up and having something to do everyday, working hard and working on something new everyday.”
The everyday grind of playing three sports not only creates small windows of off-season time in between seasons for the players, but it also puts a crunch on time for academics, which is something that they both have turned into a positive when it comes to excelling in their studies.
“I wake up in the morning and think ‘Wow, I’m really tired’ but I still have to go to school because I have to go to practice,” said Cator-Szymanski. “You have to get good grades, because if you’re failing, they’re not going to let you play.”
“Knowing that after school you have practice or a game, it keeps you up and on top of things and make sure that you get your work done,” said Gardner.
With some three-sport athletes in high school, the goal is to continue playing in college, which is a goal that the pair are split on. Gardner is currently pursuing a career in college golf, as he has narrowed his selection down to three schools in Virginia. On the other hand, Cator-Szymanski said she would like to continue playing basketball perhaps at the club level, but her musical talents are driving her college search.