Sunday, February 18, 2018
Sports

Multisport athletes not extinct in Tampa Bay area

Everything is constant motion for Largo High's Donavan Hale.

In the fall, Hale will show off his strong arm as a first-year starting quarterback. In November or December, depending on how well the Packers do on the football field, Hale will trade in his pads and lace up his high tops, displaying the skills that make him one of the best basketball players in the Tampa Bay area.

Hale, a junior, is an anomaly in this age of specialization, where athletes play only one sport at an early age and play it year-round. For as long as Hale can remember, he has divided his time between two sports.

"I've pretty much played basketball and football since I was 5," said Hale, who competed this weekend in Indianapolis at the Adidas Invitational, a national basketball showcase.

"That's always been my choice. I was never pushed to choose between one or the other."

The unwavering focus on one sport by high school athletes stems from the goal of landing the ultimate prize: a college scholarship.

Though Hale does not have offers in either sport, they should come this season. He has no idea which sport he wants to play at the next level.

"I really like both," Hale said. "It's going to be a difficult choice to make."

Largo is one of the few schools in the bay area where most of its star athletes are involved in multiple sports. Twenty years ago, at least 16 of the Tampa Bay Times' 24 all-Suncoast football players competed in another sport. In 2012? Only 14 of the 32 did.

"The majority of my team is made up of football players," boys basketball coach Phil Price said. "It's been that way for years. I don't know too many other schools that can say that."

The current high school sports calendar is so compressed that the seasons actually overlap; football practice and games go on as basketball begins. For winning teams in fall sports, state tournament schedules push play deep into November, which can cause victorious athletes to miss the preseason, and even part of the regular season, for their winter sport.

"It would be nice to have those kids the entire season," Price said. "But we encourage our players to be involved in as many sports as possible, and the coaches here work well with one another with the athletes that we share."

Wharton's Chase Litton is in a similar situation. The senior is one of the best quarterbacks in the state, committing to USF. He also excels at basketball, helping the Wildcats to the state final four last season. He has no plans to give up basketball this year.

Zephyrhills senior Jordan Roberts has a football offer from Bethune-Cookman, is a standout basketball player, and qualified for the region track meet this past spring in the 100 and 200 meters. This year he's going to try to play football, basketball, baseball and run track.

"I just love sports," Roberts said. "I love all of the games. I like to compete, to be around new people, and just sticking with one sport, it gets boring to me."

Roberts said he believes a lot of high school athletes do not participate in multiple sports because they're afraid of injury, they only love one sport or shy away from the tension between coaches when schedules clash.

The key to making it work, he said, is communicating with coaches.

"You've just got to be dedicated at the same time," he said.

Time staff writer Matt Baker contributed to this report. Bob Putnam can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @BobbyHomeTeam.

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