With a one goal lead just into the second half of a recent game against Class B Gray-New Gloucester, the Flyers needed to take advantage of a free kick from inside the offensive zone. The two teams had battled evenly since an early Waynflete goal so all of the players knew that the next goal of the game would be critical to determining its outcome. Ninth grader Isabel Canning looped the kick into the crowd gathered in front of the net, where Leigh Fernandez broke loose from her defender to get her head on the ball and redirect it past the goalie into the net. With a two goal lead, the momentum swung to the Flyers, who continued in their defense of the Class C state title by going on to win the game 3-0.
Leigh is in a unique position this fall. Besides working hard with her teammates to defend their title, she is also hoping that for the fifth time in a row, her season will end in a state championship. Leigh and Rhiannan Jackson, who graduated last spring, began the streak as teammates on the 2012 state champion lacrosse team. Their teams then ran the table last year, winning state titles in soccer, basketball, and then lacrosse again.
With Rhiannan off in college, where she is planning to play basketball and lacrosse, Leigh is alone in pursuing a fifth athletic championship. But she is not alone in changing sports with the seasons. In fact, nearly all of her teammates play more than one sport and most play on three school teams. In an age when individual sports are offered year round and young athletes are under increasing pressure to specialize, this phenomenon seems counter-cultural. In fact, it is. The path to success at many schools is to encourage athletes to specialize. But when asked what he thinks of three season athletes, Athletic Director Ross Burdick candidly replied, “We are a small school. We depend on them. Without them, we couldn’t field our current slate of 18 varsity and multiple junior varsity teams, much less enjoy the success they have been having.” To express it gratitude, Waynflete recognizes three sport athletes each year and gives an award in the spring to seniors who have played on three varsity teams for all four years.
But while students playing multiple sports benefits the School, does it benefit the athletes themselves? The answer, according to Ross, is an emphatic “Yes. One of the many benefits of kids playing multiple sports is that they learn how to compete, how to play as a team, how to play for different coaches, and how to be successful. They learn how to handle pressure, how to come from behind, and how to have fun.”
Ross could point to the four championship girls teams to illustrate his point, as each team had faced the clear prospect of defeat before gathering itself and ultimately prevailing. While the 2012 lacrosse champions won the state final easily, they came back from multiple goal late game deficits in both the regional semi-finals and finals for two of the most dramatic victories in the already storied history of the program. In the fall, the soccer team fell behind before striking with two goals in less than a minute to pull ahead in the final. The prospects for winning the championship in basketball seemed particularly dim as the team fell behind by 14 points midway through the third quarter to perennial champ Calais before a packed crowd on the last evening of basketball ever at the Bangor Civic Center. Unfazed, the girls in green pressed ahead with tenacious team defense, timely rebounding, and a stunning fourth quarter rally behind the red-hot shooting of Martha Veroneau to pull away to a 59 to 55 victory and the first Class C basketball championship in the School’s history.
The multi-sport phenomenon is not limited to the girls teams, nor is the success it yields. Also populated by multi-sport players, the 2012 boys soccer team defended its 2011 State Championship by winning the conference title before losing on penalty kicks in the regional final. The boys basketball team also won the conference and advanced to the regional final for the first time ever in Class C. Sportsmanship is paramount at Waynflete and both the boys and girls basketball teams were presented with the “MPA Good Sportsmanship Award” for Class C West, showing that our teams know how to play hard, play well, and play with class.
Besides enhancing their athletic acumen, involvement in multiple sports benefits the athletes physically as well. Single sport athletes risk developing injuries through over-training. The American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness recommends two to three months off per year from any one sport in order to give the bodies of young athletes time to recover from the strains placed on them through the repetitive motions required of that sport. Another one of the benefits is increased athleticism. By playing multiple sports, athletes learn to move their bodies in more ways, and being able to move in a variety of ways makes for a better athlete. The physical pay off of playing multiple sports is no doubt another reason for the School’s continued athletic success.
While some coaches might be tempted to encourage an athlete to specialize, the Waynflete staff is not. A veteran group of successful coaches, they understand the benefits of their athletes competing in multiple sports. Assistant Athletic Director Brandon Salway has coached the boys soccer team for over twenty years and has coached basketball for many years, currently the girls. Rich Henry has coached the boys basketball team for nine years and encourages his boys to play many sports. “I don’t encourage the boys to play AAU basketball” says Henry. “I would rather see them compete on the soccer, baseball, and lacrosse fields. They can play basketball in the summer to prepare for the winter.” Girls soccer coach Todd Dominski regularly attends basketball games and lacrosse games to watch his athletes compete. Long time girls lacrosse coach and Waynflete faculty member Cathie Connors is the biggest fan of her girls during the fall and winter seasons, as is eight year veteran cross country coach Brian Gillespie. Math teacher Zak Starr is an assistant on the boys soccer team, the girls basketball team, and the baseball team. He also coaches in the middle school, where he conveys the multiple sport benefits to all future varsity athletes through word and deed as he was a multiple sport athlete himself at Colby College.
In the competitive athletic world of Southern Maine, a successful defense of their title is by no means guaranteed to Leigh and her soccer teammates. But one thing is assured; the players will draw on their vast and varied athletic experience to play at their best, both as individuals and as a team. At Waynflete, multiple sports has lead to multiple benefits, for the School and for the athletes themselves.