• Michigan

As the debate over specialization vs. multi-sport athletes continues, the MHSAA and State Champs support the latter

By: Tom Markowski, April 29, 2018, 10:25 am

Jack Roberts announced he would be stepping down, in August, as Executive Director of the Michigan High School Athletic Association ending four decades of overseeing high school sports in this state.

State Champs will periodically look back at Roberts’ legacy, including some of his accomplishments and also controversial topics that left some scratching their heads as far as the direction the MHSAA took during Roberts’ tenure.

One area of athletics Roberts has supported from the beginning is the concept of student-athletes participating in more than one sport, commonly referred to multi-sport athletes. State Champs is a big proponent of students competing in more than one sport. We have written stories in support of this and our Sunday morning television show has also held the position that multi-sport athletes are a positive influence in the world of high school sports. In passing conversations, we have discussed this topic on our Friday night radio show as well.

Recently Roberts established a Multi-Sport Participation Task Force charged with promoting the benefits of playing more than one sport.

We at State Champs realize some student-athletes prefer to participate in just one sport. As long as a student isn’t coerced into playing just one sport, who is going to deny an individual of making that decision? As an example, look at Cassius Winston. Winston played basketball and only basketball at U-D Jesuit. He was named Mr. Basketball and continues to play well at Michigan State.

Some of the state’s top football players this season, like La’Darius Jefferson of Muskegon, Ryan Hayes of Traverse City West and Aiden Hutchison of Dearborn Divine Child, were multi-sport athletes. 

In a recent article State Champs posted on Mariel Bruxvoort of Grand Rapids South Christian, a senior who will run track at Iowa next season, Bruxvoort said she supports the concept of being a multi-sport athlete. She was one of the top basketball players in the Grand Rapids area and could have played this sport in college. She also competed in volleyball and said that playing three sports helped her become a better athlete and, in the end, a better track athlete.

Let’s put that thought aside for a second. It is what Bruxvoort said in addition to this that is the crux of the matter. By competing in different sports, an individual will invariably meet different people and might develop relationships that will be beneficial in the future, socially and perhaps emotionally. Bruxvoort said one benefit of playing three sports allowed her to interact with people she would otherwise not had the chance.

Ask yourself, why participate in high school athletics? Is your answer, to earn a college scholarship and that by specializing in one sport, the chances of earning that scholarship will increase?

If that’s the case, why is it that college coaches, like Tom Izzo at Michigan State, have been on the record stating that they prefer recruits to compete in more than one sport in high school?

A Detroit area reporter recently sent out a tweet stating, in part, that of the 32 players selected in the first round of the NFL Draft 29 participated in more than one sport in high school.

The point is if an individual thinks that specialization is your ticket to compete at the next level perhaps that person should re-evaluate his or her situation.

A recent study released by the National Federation of State High Schools Associations (NFHS), and re-released by the MHSAA, stated that one in every 54 high school students receives some form of assistance for competing in athletics and that four times as many receive an academic scholarship, full or partial.

A point being made in this study is that a large percentage of parents are being misled by coaches of travel teams and/or personal trainers who insist that the children of these parents must devote his or her time, and money, outside of the framework of high school athletics, to earn a scholarship in a particular sport. Are there honest people coaching travel hockey teams or in other sports? Sure. Are there those who are selfishly motivated? Of course, there are.

Two questions here, in this regard. Is the money spent worth it? And, two, is the time spent away from high school activities, like plays, attending sporting events as a member of the student body, or perhaps being involved in school-sponsored community services worth it as well?

An individual must weigh the options available. Is spending 300 days a year on one sport best for me? Maybe it is. The pertinent question an individual must ask oneself is, am I enjoying the experience or am I doing it to please someone else?

The expense of a college education can be overwhelming. According to the NFHS study, the cost for a student who attends a public university in their state of residence is $25,290 per year. The average annual cost at a private institution is $50,900. According to the NCAA the average Division I scholarship is worth $10,400.


The money available for academic scholarships is four times greater.


So, is it better to spend money on travel lacrosse or spend that time concentrating on academics?


If the answer is based on dollars the answer is obvious. If your child enjoys playing travel or club sports, then perhaps that’s the answer. But if all you are trying to do is chasing someone else’s dream you might need a reality check.