MISSOULA – This past May, the Montana High School Association distributed an article titled “The Inherent Risk of Sports Specialization.”
It cited a University of Wisconsin study that found young athletes are 70 percent more likely to suffer an injury if they play a single sport year-round. The MHSA wants kids to compete in multiple sports, and several young stars in Missoula have found the benefits.
Missoula Hellgate’s Rollie Worster made news before his sophomore season even tipped off. He gave a very early commitment to play basketball for the Montana Grizzlies, but even with a bright future already mapped out, Worster spends the fall suiting up for a different group of Knights.
“I love football, also,” said the current junior, who started at quarterback and safety for the Knights. “They both help with each other. The physicality of football helps on the basketball court. It’s just good to go out and compete in something maybe you’re not as good at, and keep that competitive edge going.”
“People come up to me and say it’s really remarkable what he’s doing,” said Hellgate head basketball coach Jeff Hays. “He knows he’s got a college basketball scholarship, yet he plays almost every down in football. I tell them that’s just who he is. He wants to compete all of the time.”
Worster is one of several college-bound stars in the Garden City that have found multiple ways to showcase their athleticism. Across town at Missoula Sentinel, Shelby Schweyen had a tough choice between volleyball, basketball and track. So, she picked all three.
“Whatever season I’m in is what sport I love the most at the time,” said Schweyen. “Right now, it’s basketball. But I know the second track rolls around it’s going to be track.”
Ashley McElmurry, Schweyen’s basketball teammate, will go to Nebraska on a track scholarship, but hoops and soccer have also given plenty to McElmurry.
“I think, for me, it’s just having a lot of opportunities to be able to compete,” added McElmurry. “I mean, I get to be on a great team surrounded by other great athletes, so it’s a really cool experience.”
Those multi-sport athletes praised the benefits of their busy schedules. They also didn’t fear a potential downside. What happens if an injury in their second or third sports kept them from playing their top choices? The potential worry never crosses their minds.
Schweyen injured her knee in volleyball and hasn’t played a game yet this basketball season, but she would never sit out by choice.
Hellgate’s Matt Baldridge, a two-time Montana Gatorade soccer player of the year and a Fort Lewis College recruit, faced a similar scenario. He never questioned his unfortunate luck, either.
“Last year, I hurt my ankle playing basketball and had to get surgery,” said Baldridge. “I missed quite a bit of soccer, but I see it as if I get injured in that sport, it would happen in the other one.”
The athletes might not fear the added bumps and bruises, but that doesn’t go for everyone, especially the basketball coaches watching Worster take hits on Friday nights.
“I always joke with him, ‘Run out of bounds, throw it away, slide,’” said Hays. “I can work with you on those things. I can’t work with you on the finer points of football, but I could help you with those.”
Young athletes often put all of their work into one sport in the hopes that it will pay off and one day land them a chance to compete in college. But the coaches that hand out those coveted scholarships don’t necessarily see specialization as an advantage.
“We really like to see the multi-sport athletes,” said Montana Lady Griz head coach Shannon Schweyen. “I think it’s good for them, the cross-training, just the variety of coaching that they get. It seems like there is a little less burnout maybe in kids that have been involved in a lot of different sports.”
The MHSA and many of Montana’s brightest young stars agree.
Shelby Schweyen still can’t pick between her favorite sports, or between her parents. She’ll compete for her mom Shannon, the Lady Griz head coach, and for her dad Brian, Montana’s track and field coach, next year.