While today's high school athlete is less likely to play threesports, James Starks of Niagara Falls and Katy Ryan of Hamburg arethe exceptions.
Make that exceptional exceptions.
Between club programs, summer camps and offseason tournaments,many student-athletes have turned to training year-round for onesport. It's a trend that disturbs athletics directors and highschool purists who favor the well-rounded athlete in the same wayschool administrators like students to experience different coursesof the curriculum.
The trend is bucked by three-season senior stars like Starks --whose nickname happens to be 'Buck'.
Starks is an All-Western New York first-team football player whoaccepted a scholarship to the University at Buffalo. The 6-foot-3,190-pounder was also the sixth man for the Wolverines' statechampion and nationally ranked basketball team, while he iscurrently among the top four in Western New York in four track andfield events.
The 5-10 Ryan was a first-team All-WNY selection in girls soccer,an honorable mention in basketball and appears headed toward hersecond first-team honor in girls lacrosse.
'In high school you only get one chance to play everything youwant,' said Starks, who is posting top performances on the trackdespite last season being his first experience with the sport. 'Ifyou like
something and you want to try it, it's the best time or else youwon't know if you're good at it or not.'
Ryan echoed Starks' thoughts about living season to season.
'You have to make it worthwhile,' she said of her high schoolexperience. 'I talked with my parents about just playing lacrosse mysenior year in case I got hurt (playing other sports), but it wasn'treally a consideration. You could hurt yourself falling down thestairs, you know? So you just have to make the best of it and go outthere and play.
'I never really considered concentrating on just one sport. Evenmy physical therapist told me that it's my senior year and that Ishould get the most out of it.'
Ryan's open-minded attitude actually ended up leading her to acollege scholarship.
Ryan played soccer and basketball throughout her youth, and evenswam competitively up until her sophomore year. She even tried thetrack team once, in seventh grade, but that seemed to be the onlysport that didn't agree with her.
So in eighth grade, Ryan went out for the girls lacrosse team --even though she had never picked up a stick. 'They let me on the JVteam,' Ryan said, 'and I just loved it.'
Three years later, Ryan was an All-WNY first teamer in lacrosseand ended up accepting a lacrosse scholarship to the University ofConnecticut. She chose UConn over Syracuse, Boston College and theUniversity of Massachusetts.
'Katy could get by in any sport just on her skill andathleticism,' said Hamburg girls lacrosse coach Jack Wellington.'But she's also the hardest working person in every drill. Shedoesn't rest on her ability. She works hard to improve.
'As coaches we look for those three-sport athletes becausethey're well-rounded. But these days it's rare to see kids playthree sports, and it's especially rare to see those that excel atall three.'
Starks and Ryan both ended up getting scholarships while playingmultiple sports. Lancaster Athletics Director Len Jankiewicz seeskids going the one-sport route with hopes of impressing collegescouts, and he worries that the students will lose out on what issupposed to be the high school sports experience.
'Athletes want to get noticed, so they'll specialize and try forthese elite camps or tournaments,' he said. 'When you shelve thesoftball experience, or track experience, or whatever sport, we'velost the idea of high school athletics. Whatever coach you get, theexperience cultivates you in different ways and gets you betterprepared for life. If you choose one sport over others, it's a lossfor the individual and a loss for the school.'
Starks and Ryan, who somehow found time to earn honor-roll gradesthis year, both said that participating in different sports helpedthem develop skills they would use on other teams. Both said theynever really got fatigued going from season to season, even thoughboth have helped all of their teams to lengthy postseason trips.
And their summers were far from vacations.
Starks alternated between football camps and the bigger AAUbasketball tournaments right up until football practice started inmid-August. Ryan participated in so many summer sports it seemedlike she had an eight-day week: lacrosse practice once or twice aweek with games on weekends, summer league basketball twice a weekand a practice and a game in soccer each week.
'Some (teammates on her club lacrosse team) are like, 'I couldnever do that (practice and play so much),' ' said Ryan. 'But allthe girls I've play with, all the personalities and coaches, it'sbeen a great experience.'
Among the few other three-sport stars in this year's senior classis Timon/St. Jude's Ryan Dunford, a Division I baseball signee withPittsburgh who carried on what seems to be a Tiger tradition inSouth Buffalo by excelling in three sports. Like 1954 star TommyRyan and 2001 grad Charlie Comerford and many in between, he alsoearned All-WNY status in football and basketball for Timon.
Other notable well-rounded seniors include All-WNY baseballplayer Charlie Karstedt of Eden (football, basketball), All-WNYfootball running back James Mallory of Kenmore West (basketball,track) and City Honors' Mary Pitek, an All-High soccer andbasketball player who is also a coxswain for the crew team.
Starks' feats this year deserve to make him one of the best all-around athletes in Western New York history.
He was a Michael Vick-type pass-and-run threat at quarterback ashe led Falls to the playoffs while Division I superpowers likeSyracuse and Michigan recruited him to play defensive back. DuringFalls' historic basketball season, Starks was an ultradependableforce off the bench, seemingly draining tough jumpers and finishingfast breaks as soon as he stepped on the court (he had 12 points inFalls' 68-65 win over Xaverian in the state Federation final). Thisspring, he owns Western New York's top time in the 100 (10.94) andthe best long jump (22-3), while he is third in the 200 (22.74) andfourth in the triple jump (43-1/2).
Ryan started this year with 12 goals and 16 assists to helpHamburg to the girls soccer sectional semifinals, then was an All-ECIC II forward in basketball as the Bulldogs won the Section VIClass AA championship. In lacrosse, she already has 24 goals andshould have Hamburg challenging for the Section VI Division II andClass B titles. Ryan had a school-record 75 goals last year asHamburg won the Class A title; the Bulldogs moved down a class thisyear.
Ryan says the only bad thing about playing different sports iswhen the seasons end.
'Ending each sport is hard,' she said. 'Sometimes you just don'twant it to end because you love all the girls you're playing with.And you wish you could just have played one more game . . .
'But then it's a new season comes around, and you get to startall over again.'