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FROM THE CATBIRD SEAT: The tug of war for multi-sport athletes

There's a tug of war going on in communities all over the nation, and, like politics, it never seems to end.

One season ends. The next begins. But in smaller communities, many of the players stay the same.

Except when they don't. And there's the rub.

Allow me to explain. Carlton County schools, and many in northeastern Minnesota for that matter, are dependent on two- and three-sport athletes to put teams on their fields of play. Enrollment isn't at the point where schools can have specialists.

I'll give you an example. In my capacity as a broadcaster, I saw Lakeville South play boys basketball on Tuesday, Feb. 27. They are a decent team for Class AAAA basketball — they were 13-11 entering their game with Rosemount and 14-11 after it — but looking at their roster, you get the idea that there aren't a lot of three-sport athletes on it.

Their front line went 6-foot-9, 6-foot-7 and 6-foot-6, with good height options off the bench. These aren't kids that necessarily need to play another sport. The one they're really good at seems to be enough.

It's the kind of frontcourt that most Northland coaches not named Mike Devney would love to have.

But when their season ends, his better players go to summer basketball and AAU and get ready for next season.

Not so in Cloquet, where the stars on the football team split up for winter sports and now will move on to spring.

Some of the kids do it because they love to play. Others choose to try to specialize. Most elite hockey players are of this mindset and who can blame them?

It's a very personal choice. But for some teams, reliance on the three-sport athlete is important.

Witness Cloquet-Esko-Carlton wrestling coach Al Denman. He's put some outstanding wrestlers through his growing program over the last few years, and is on the cusp of having a very good team for a very long time due to a young and exciting roster.

That is, if he can get enough kids from other sports to fill out his team in all weight classes.

Forfeits are death to high school wrestling teams who want to be contenders, and Cloquet doesn't have a lot of entrants at the upper weight positions. That's nobody's fault — kids do what kids do — but Denman wouldn't mind seeing a couple of strapping young lads take on another new sport.

But on the other side of the coin, kids need rest. They need time to be kids, and have time with their friends. I think of a person like Casey Mittlestadt of Eden Prairie, who turned down the chance to play junior hockey in favor of staying with his friends for one more season.

Hockey forward Riley Tufte, now of the University of Minnesota Duluth, did the same thing during his senior year at Blaine. There was no sports overlap for them but they made sure there was no friend overlap as well.

The choices are out there for our children. We've worked hard as parents and community members to give them options.

So let's encourage their decisions, and help them grow in the way that best suits each individual.

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