Corey Costelloe mug

Corey Costelloe

I came across an interesting feature this week in the Los Angeles Times on Encino Crespi, a resurging high school football program that was once a CIF Southern Section Division I team before participation numbers forced them into the much smaller Division 6.

Crespi’s once again relevant in the football world, thanks in part to their focus on multisport athletes. It’s certainly not a new concept, but in an era of players and parents preferring to focus on one sport, the results of that approach have made many programs, especially football, suffer as The Times pointed out the sport has lost more than 12,000 players in the last four years.

At Crespi, the coaching staff encourages multisport participation. Two seasons ago there were 41 boys in the football program; this year that number has ballooned to more than 90, with 45 participating on the 3-1 varsity Celts team that suffered their first loss this past Friday night at Chaminade in West Hollywood. The concept is simple: build true athletes while also building teamwork and camaraderie among their troops through various rosters. In the meantime, the athletes get better by focusing on other aspects of other sports. As one Crespi player pointed out, “Football helped with toughness in basketball, basketball helped my athleticism, track makes you faster. That helps with everything.”

The multisport approach certainly isn’t for everyone, but don’t think that it is reserved for elite athletes. If there’s a poster boy for that approach, you’re talking to him. I spent most of my life playing both baseball and football with occasional basketball mixed in. When I got to high school, specifically my sophomore year, I was a three-sport athlete at Tehachapi High School in football, wrestling and baseball. It all paid off eventually at the varsity football level. Getting beat on in the wrestling room made me the football player I never believed I could become.

Most of my teams were filled with multisport athletes. Those were the same guys I played football with, specifically. It was almost a requirement to be on more than one team while suiting up for the Warriors. Prior to social media, that was our social network. More these days it seems like players are concerned with sharing their experiences with strangers and others not part of the team as to building and enjoying the memories with the players around them. I built unbelievable relationships with my teammates on multiple teams and even today I miss the ones I don’t get to see on a regular basis and am proud of those I interact with regularly. We shared so much across multiple sports.

With a fairly small school like Tehachapi, multisport athletes were once the lifeblood of our teams. The more I look around, these days I’m dismayed to learn they no longer are. Football is a prime example of that. With fewer bodies, the quality of practice goes down, the fewer reps backup players receive and the less competition there is for starting positions. This allows players to focus less on keeping their starting positions and the desire to get better as a protection of one’s job is no longer a necessity.

This is something not controlled by coaches and administrators, but by parents at home. I was encouraged to play multiple sports; I won’t use the word “required” but in my house growing up the writing was on the wall. Nothing prepared me for the next season like the sport I had just completed.

In my professional career, I worked with plenty of coaches who told me they weren’t looking for the best players to fill their rosters, they were looking for the best athletes. Cal State Bakersfield baseball coach Bill Kernen once pointed that out to me, offering a speedy outfielder a scholarship after reviewing both his baseball and football statistics.

Athletes aren’t made on a year-round specialty cycle of one sport. Club coaches might disagree and accuse me of hurting their business, but I’m using my empirical data, and backing that up with the words of Crespi’s Jackson White, who told The Times, “Life is about experiences, and I want to be with all of my teammates in different sports.”

Long live the multisport athlete. In the meantime, let’s encourage more to enjoy this critical part of a small high school athletic program, and the greatest social network of all.

Corey Costelloe has covered NCAA, professional and local sports for more than 20 years as a reporter and broadcaster. A THS graduate, he now resides in Tehachapi. He can be reached at corey.costelloe@gmail.com. The opinions expressed are his own.