Time is of the essence

Second of six parts

Brittany Miller always had a plan for success.

Once the recent graduate of South Kitsap High School found her sport, fastpitch softball, she excelled at it to the point that she is now getting the ultimate reward - her college years are paid for.

That was part of the plan, and Miller and her family executed it perfectly as she heads off to Linfield College, a Division III school in Oregon, next month to start the next chapter of her life.

“I was really looking for a small school and one that offered majors that I wanted,” Miller said. “I didn’t want to play Division I because it becomes your life there, and my goal for college is academics. My career is not going to be softball — it’s going to be whatever I decide to do.”

Miller’s story is one of success and could be used as a guide for others who want to — or are forced to — use sports as a way to pay for higher education.

In this day and age where many high school athletes are turning their backs on other sports to specialize in just one, hoping to get that college scholarship, there are always the stories that don’t turn out as well as Miller’s did.

But who loses more? Is it the athlete who fails to get the full ride to college or is it the possible teammates and sport itself denied someone’s participation?

Or is it the families that spend so much time and money to get a child the coaching and playing experience they feel will help them out the most?

In the past decade or so, the line that separates the seasons and the sports has all but disappeared. No longer are sports classified by a season.

Sports have become year-round activities and a big business for those who want to help kids specialize. But at what cost?

“You do see a lot of athletes who do just one sport, and that sport is continued in the community setting with club and select activities that are put together either individuals or a whole club and organization,” said former South Kitsap athletic director Steve Reischman. “I really have mixed feelings about all that because I think parents and coaches are giving a lot of their time to these kids, which I think is good. Athletics are good for kids, but I think at some point, there needs to be a little bit of a check on how much involvement these kids have in their particular sports.

“And I think that reflects back on the two-sport and three-sport kids as well,” Reischman said. “Some kids are on two or three teams, and that just wears you out. And it would wear you out – it would wear me out as a parent trying to do that.”

Miller, for example, would play often three fastpitch games for South in one week and play twice as many games over tha weekend for her club team. There are the soccer players who sandwich two high school games a week around a weekend tournament, where they can play up to four times.

South Kitsap wrestler Brent Chriswell devotes a portion of his summer vacation wrestling in national tournaments, while many members of the Wolves’ basketball team spend the entire year either at camps or playing on select teams.

The sheer number of hours some of these kids and their families put into just playing one sport are mind-boggling.

“What’s the answer? I’m not really sure,” Reischman said. “I think it is the responsibility of parents to try and get a handle on that. But I think some of them get wrapped up, and this is certainly not true of all of them, but some get wrapped in the mindset that more is better and the more they do, the higher level the athlete is going to get to. And then the word ‘scholarship’ always seems to pop in there.”

Focusing lots of time and effort into one sport, whether the goal is enjoyment or a way to pay for college, isn’t always a bad thing, Reischman said. But some kids and their parents get lost in the drive to succeed.

Some kids get burned out long before the process really gets under way, and others who play year round, getting the best coaching available, still don’t reap the big rewards.

“It takes a tremendous amount to go to the next level,” Reischman said. “And there are all kinds of next levels. We have many students from here that go on to have really successful careers anywhere from junior college to Division III to Division II, all different levels to the very highest.

“And some of them get up there and they figure out that, ‘Man, this is a job,’ ” Reischman said. “And they don’t last. And it’s not a positive thing. Or if they do last, they kind of step back away from it once they’re done and realize just how hard it was.”

There are many that make it to the top, a Division I scholarship at some of the country’s most prestigious universities, and come away with a negative experience. Many athletes are treated badly and have put in so much of the time and effort that when it’s all over, they realize there was no enjoyment at all.

“A scholarship is nice, obviously it is a ticket to college,” Reischman said. “But I don’t know if it should be the whole answer.”

But there are as many success stories as failures. One need look no further than Miller and the approach she and her family took to not only athletics, but to school and the future. As she has said, sports is not going to be her life, academics and her career will be.

“And that’s a great statement,” Reischman said. “It takes a pretty mature kid to make that kind of statement.”

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