Speaking recently with members of the Carroll County Sports Hall of Fame's newest class, all of whom grew up playing every sport possible, reminded me of something Orioles manager Buck Showalter said last season.

"If I see a guy that's done nothing but play baseball on these travel squads, that's a red flag. Burnout coming, probably," he said. "He's also not very athletic in some capacity. You don't see many [one-sport guys] in those media guides."

Traditionally, if you take a look around a Major League Baseball clubhouse, you see a lot of players who were also the best football and basketball players at their high schools. An NFL locker room, similarly, is filled with prep track stars and wrestlers. Professional athletes, by and large, were three-sport studs all the way up to graduation.

That may not be the case in future generations, however.

As we began the process of trying to select Carroll County's Boys Athlete of the Year, I was amazed at how few candidates we found that excelled at a different sport in the fall, the winter and the spring. (The one general exception being those who run cross country in the fall and then run during indoor and outdoor track season. Different sports, yes, but variations on the same skill.)

Where have you gone Joe Goodwin?

Goodwin, chosen as our top boys athlete the first year I was involved in the process a little more than two decades ago, was our Football Player of the Year, our Baseball Player of the Year, and the point guard on the South Carroll basketball team as well.

While his ability level in all three sports may have been uncommon - he was inducted into the Carroll Hall last year - the fact that he starred in three sports wasn't. Nearly all the top athletes at every school did the same.

It's rare these days, particularly for boys, thanks to specialization (and burnout). Kids are choosing to play just one sport at younger and younger ages. Whether it's academy soccer or AAU basketball or club field hockey or travel baseball, the seasons seemingly never end.

Parents play a role in this. College costs have skyrocketed. The idea of Junior earning a scholarship is tantalizing. And if Junior's future is soccer, well, time spent playing basketball or lacrosse is just a waste, right?

Playing one sport year-round is a foreign concept to the incoming Hall class of Vic Drechsler, Stephanie Hoag, Sue Hooper, Denny Snyder and Ray Wilson, who will be inducted May 23 at Carroll Community College.

When asked what his favorite sport was growing up, Snyder - who played soccer, basketball and baseball at North Carroll in the 1980s - said whichever one was in season. The longtime high school and youth coach said it drives him crazy to see kids focusing on just one sport.

Hooper is bothered by serious leagues for kids barely out of kindergarten.

"I don't like to see them start too early," she said. "I like to see them play."

She was suggesting tag or "Cowboys and Indians." But there are no organized, parent-supervised leagues for such games. Kids just going out to play on their own is virtually extinct. When's the last time you saw a football or baseball game spontaneously break out in an open field?

"We played all the time, whatever was in season," said Drechsler, a three-sport standout at Westminster in the 1970s. "It's more specialized these days."

Which can lead to problems. Developing bodies aren't meant to be using the same muscle group or putting stress on the same bones all year long.

Kids are missing out on more than just fitness when they specialize too early.

If they're around the same group of teammates season after season their group of friends won't be nearly as diverse and they may not learn how to deal as well with people from varied backgrounds.

"It's how you learn to interact with people," said Hoag, the former Stephanie Morningstar who was the best runner at Westminster High during her career but also earned two varsity letters in soccer and four in basketball.

Today's athlete would seem a most foreign concept to Wilson, whose own multi-sport high school career at Elmer Wolfe High was ending at about the same time as World War II.

But it's not. He said he has a great-granddaughter who plays volleyball year round so he "can't knock it."

Still, he does worry about kids getting tired of a sport they initially loved and quitting. He cited no less an authority than Johnny Unitas.

"Unitas didn't believe in Little League football for 8- and 9-year-olds. He said they got burned out," Wilson said. "And I believe that, too."

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