For anyone who’s been at a Wood County high school game this past school year you’ve probably seen a tall black guy in jeans and a polo shirt who looks like he should be on the court or field playing on your school’s team. Well that guy is me, Quinton Lilley.
I became the Wood County Monitor’s sports editor last September just as football season got underway and one of the things that became immediately apparent as football season, basketball season, volleyball season and baseball / softball season came around – was that a lot of the same athletes were playing two and sometimes three sports in one academic year. But while all these teams could compete with like-size schools in small towns oftentimes small East Texas schools have been overwhelmed skill-wise by schools in Dallas as well as other metropolitan areas in the state and I think I know why.
I’m originally from San Bernardino, California, a suburb located 60 miles east of Los Angeles. Southern California is a lot like the DFW area with millions of residents, bad traffic and extremely competitive sports teams especially on the high school level. From an early age most kids were choosing one sport to specialize in because the skill level of young athletes began to skyrocket especially in metropolitan areas like Los Angeles, New York, Houston and many others.
By the age of 10 I knew that playing basketball was my God-given gift and that if I wanted to maximize my chances to earn a college basketball scholarship I would have to work on my basketball skills year round. So from the age of 11 with the help of my father Myron Lilley (who played college basketball as well) I played basketball 11 months a year and constantly played on club teams and school teams year round.
By age 17, I became good enough to be offered a college scholarship to California State University-Eastbay. I later transferred and played college basketball at St. Edward’s University in Austin from 2012-2016 before beginning my career in sports journalism.
While many “old school” athletes in the 70s, 80s and 90s were regularly seen playing running back in the fall, point guard in the winter and short stop in the spring over the past 20 years or so that occurrence has become less common in major cities across the country. The only exception is high school athletes in small school districts just like Mineola, Alba-Golden, Quitman, Hawkins and Yantis. Much of this reason from my perspective is based on the demand for athletes to fill a roster as well as the traditional approach that athletes shouldn’t have to choose one sport at which to be good at.
While most athletes at schools like Dallas Lincoln, Dallas Carter, Desoto, Plano East or Lancaster high schools are playing one sport year round, small school athletes feel an obligation to play multiple sports throughout the school year which sometimes can hinder their ability to improve in the off-season from year to year.
For example, most of the athletes who played basketball this past winter in Wood County won’t touch a basketball again until football season is over because most of them also play on the gridiron. This fact has put small town sports other than football at a huge disadvantage compared to their metropolitan counterparts. These athletes often specialize in one sport, have skills trainers work with them year round and play club sports in their school team’s off-season and summer.
Another issue that asking student athletes to play multiple sports creates is it makes it even harder for some to receive the exposure needed for a college coach to recruit them. Most college coaches do their recruiting during club seasons often held in their respective off seasons.
Lastly rural areas like Wood County have vastly fewer options when it comes to club teams for high school athletes to join. So many of the high school athletes with dreams of playing college sports have to travel more than 30 miles for club practices, tournaments and camps which costs families more and more money.
According to information released by local high schools covered by the Monitor this school year, eight student athletes earned sports scholarships in NCAA Division II and III as well as NAIA schools, with none of them being NCAA Division I schools. The Monitor currently covers sports at five Wood County high schools. According to NCAA.org, six percent of all high school athletes earn a college sports scholarship; 3.4 percent of men’s basketball players, 3.9 percent of women’s basketball players, 6.8 percent of football players and 7.1 percent of baseball players.
Ultimately I believe that if student athletes in small towns want to compete on the highest level with athletes from metropolitan areas year-in and year-out some of them may have to choose just one sport in which to specialize and better their skill level year round. While some athletes may be able to play multiple sports and still be good enough to earn a scholarship in a sport of their choice the likelihood will continue to drop.
Being able to say you’re a multi-sport athlete is a great accomplishment, but if it means risking your opportunity to earn a college scholarship is it really worth it?