Athletes face tough choices

By Rick White

One season flows into another.
Football starts before Labor Day. By Thanksgiving, basketball practice is three weeks old. Baseball and track begin before Valentine’s Day.
It’s a steady diet of practices and games for nearly 10 months that takes its toll on mind and body.
For most high school athletes, playing three sports is a good thing because it keeps them busy and study after study shows the benefits of youth athletics later in life. It’s also the last time most will compete in sports outside of pickup games and a $5 Nassau.
But what about the top athletes?
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For the first time since he was in junior high, Jason Seefeld is not going to play three sports.
Seefeld, who verbally committed Monday to play baseball at the University of Arizona, plans to skip basketball this winter to hone his skills on the diamond where he was the district player of the year as a shortstop and relief pitcher.
“I pretty much decided last year when I couldn’t work out a way I could play both sports at the same time,” said Seefeld, the kicker on the Wildcats football team the last three seasons.
It wasn’t as if he was a fringe player on the hoop team. Seefeld came off the bench as a sophomore and a starter as a junior.
But Seefeld missed the Wildcats’ first seven baseball games — and had Clovis made the state basketball championship game it would have been 10 — and it took him until district play to get his timing down.
A starter since he was a freshman, Seefeld finished the season hitting .450 with a school-record eight home runs — all in the last 13 games — and 26 RBI while helping the Wildcats reach the state playoffs for a second-straight season.
“It took a while for him to get his timing down,” Clovis baseball coach Shane Shallenberger said. “Jason is a great kid. He’s the first one to practice and the last one to leave.”
Shallenberger said with a big year Seefeld might get drafted by a Major League team.
It’s clear Seefeld’s future is in baseball, but his decision not to play basketball comes with a price.
The Wildcats have a realistic chance of winning a state title in basketball with a veteran team that includes 6-foot-7 junior Tig Bunton and two-year senior starters Bud Willis and Justin Pinckney.
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Selfishly, what coach wouldn’t want to have his players year round where they could work on weight training and individual skills?
But sharing athletes is a fact of life in high school and coaches are understanding and supportive.
The benefit of playing sports year round are many. In this modern world of working mothers and latchkey kids, it adds structure to the lives of at-risk kids and keeps potentially rambunctious teens busy.
It also gives players multiple role models in both coaches and players and adds extra incentive to do well in school.
Wildcats boys basketball coach J.D. Isler said he understands Seefeld’s situation, especially after he thought about what he would do if it was his son in the same situation.
It is the second year in a row Isler has had to deal with the loss of a starter.
Last year, two-year starter Joey Garcia decided not to play basketball.
The time off allowed Garcia, who signed to play football at Texas Tech, to recuperate from a knee injury before track season.
In the spring, a rested Garcia won the gold medals he coveted in the 110- and 300-meter hurdles at state.
With Garcia, Clovis easily could have won the school’s state basketball title.
Senior Monique Walker is another in a long line of three-sport stars at Clovis.
She could likely earn a college scholarship in volleyball, basketball and track. The question is: How good could she be if she concentrated on one or two sports?
Seefeld said he doesn’t think students should keep their options open until after their sophomore year.
He should know. He said he nearly chose golf over baseball as an eighth-grader.

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Last week’s column upset at least one Clovis High football player and his father, who felt remarks that I intended to be light-hearted had a negative impact on some of the players.
It certainly was not my intent to belittle anyone.
I apologize to anyone who felt the comments were out of line. The intent was to peek into the creative minds of teenagers and share their carefree, fun-loving outlooks on life.