Over the past four weeks, we’ve run a weekly series in the sports section and on our website called, "THE GRIND." We’ve meant to show a glimpse into the hyper-competitive world that’s become of high school athletics, and so we’ve shown Forsyth County athletes who fill their schedules with private coaching and year-round travel to get whatever competitive edge they can.
Nick Palmer, a rising senior boys basketball player at Pinecrest Academy, practices four days a week with the Paladins, plays tournaments with a travel team and has private coaches to help his shooting and speed and agility.
Lambert softball player Marissa Guimbarda gets private pitching lessons and travels the country to play in showcase tournaments in front of college coaches.
Robert Shaw, a rising senior golfer at West Forsyth, has played tournaments in 10 out of 11 weeks this summer (oops, spoiler alert!)
On and on it goes, clear evidence that the county’s elite high school athletes find whatever resources they can to master their specific sport.
It’s a world that’s gaining increasing criticism and stirs debate about the best methods to develop athletes. Specialization has been the growing call in recent years, particularly as competition for college scholarships has amplified.
But recent studies are encouraging a return to the days where multi-sport athletes were the norm. David Epstein, a reporter at ProPublica and author of "The Sports Gene," wrote a recent article in The New York Times arguing that the most menacing force in youth sports isn’t concussions but the pressures on young athletes to specialize in one sport calling it, "both dangerous and counterproductive."
Dangerous, Epstein writes, because one study showed highly specialized youth athletes were 36 percent more likely to suffer a serious overuse injury – stress fractures, damaged ligaments, cracked cartilage.
Counterproductive, he says, because playing multiple sports helps athletes, "transfer learned motor and anticipatory skills – the unconscious ability to read bodies and game situations – to other sports."
Epstein says the data supports avoiding specialization until at least age 12. One study showed sub-elite tennis players started to specialize by age 11, eventual elite players not until 14. Another showed the average age of specialization among U.C.L.A. varsity athletes was 15.4. It was 14.2 for undergrads who played sports in high school but couldn’t reach the collegiate level.
Forsyth County bears all this out. Palmer still plays football. Guimbarda played basketball through middle school. Shaw gave up travel baseball when he was 12.
All of which sent this question running through my mind: Who are the best multi-sport athletes in the county?
Here are eight (OK, maybe nine) of the best athletes in Forsyth who don’t stop once one season is over:
Seth Beer, Lambert: By now, we all know of the rising junior’s immense talent on the baseball field. Our 2014 Forsyth County Baseball Player of the Year was an all-region and all-American outfielder/pitcher. But did you know he used to be a nationally-elite swimmer too? Beer swam again this past season on the Longhorns’s boys swimming team.
Lochlain Corliss, North Forsyth: Certainly the rising senior’s college future is in basketball where she was all-county (again) and all-region (again) after helping the Lady Raiders win the Region 6-AAAAAA championship and reach the quarterfinals of the state tournament. But Corliss’s speed as a point guard translates well as a starter on the girls soccer team.
Jeremy Johnson, Lambert: The rising senior was another two-sport all-region player this past season. He helped the Longhorns baseball team win the Class AAAAAA championship and led the county in interceptions with the football team.
Tucker Maxwell, Lambert: Hard not to include this rising junior who rushed for 831 yards as the Longhorns’ starting quarterback and hit .404 with 6 home runs and 27 RBIs while playing centerfield on the school’s championship baseball team. He's been offered by Georgia to play baseball.
Ryan McCarthy, Pinecrest Academy: Just a rising sophomore, McCarthy already showed his athleticism this past season. He started at quarterback on the football team, was a key contributor on the boys basketball team and led the Paladins’s baseball team in hitting.
Hampton McConnell, West Forsyth: The rising senior is committed to play football at Georgia Southern and is the returning Forsyth County Offensive Player of the Year, but he was also first team all-region with the Wolverines baseball team.
Carsen and Connor Parker, West Forsyth: How about a two-for-one deal here? Carsen, a rising sophomore, played significant minutes on the girls basketball team last season and was a starter on the girls soccer team. Connor, a rising senior, is a starter on both the girls basketball and girls lacrosse teams.
Ryan Peppenhorst, South Forsyth: The rising senior uses his speed and endurance in three sports: he was the 2013 Forsyth County Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year, started on the War Eagles’s boys soccer team that made the playoffs and ran distance in track. What a schedule.
Brian Paglia is sports editor of the Forsyth County News. He can be reached at email@example.com, 770-205-8976 or follow him on Twitter at @BrianPaglia.