By Jim Sullivan
---- — For a school with only 400 students, The Governor’s Academy in Byfield knows how to dole out the championships.
Four of the Govs’ fall teams — boys cross-country, volleyball, girls soccer and football — racked up New England Prep School Athletic Counsel (NEPSAC) championships. The girls soccer and football teams also took home Independent School League (ISL) titles after going undefeated.
“It’s going to be a really expensive fall,” said Governor’s Academy athletic director Roberta McLain. “I have six banners to purchase. We certainly win a lot of championships and have a lot of banners on our walls. But six in one season is pretty significant.”
It’s a pleasant dilemma for McLain to be sure, and one that she feels would be impossible if she hadn’t fought against sports specialization.
“As an athletic director, I firmly believe that playing multiple sports makes you a better athlete, even in your primary sport,” said McLain. “My biggest battle as an athletic director is the specialization. Convincing parents that their kid can play football and still play hockey here. And that is a trend all over the country. So, for us to have so many top-level Division 1 athletes who are playing multiple sports at a level where they are going on to win championships is pretty awesome.”
For The Governor’s Academy, having multiple-sport athletes playing year-round is about more than diversity. It’s also about necessity.
“Without the kids playing multiple sports, it would be tough to field a team,” said football head coach Jim O’Leary, who coached the Triton Regional High football team in 2008 and 2009. “We are such a small school that three of our four captains are going on to play Division 1 lacrosse. The captain of our hockey team is our cornerback. So that certainly helps us when kids can come over and play different sports. That’s great.”
O’Leary also feels that multiple-sport athletes are more coachable.
“Some of the football and lacrosse skills definitely overlap, with the aggressiveness and agility,” says O’Leary. “These guys are learning different skills and in different areas, and they kind of put it all together into whatever sport they are playing. Besides the fact that they are in great shape all year round.”
Even though this diversity seems to be working well for the Govs, not everyone sees the wisdom in it right away.
“I do have to fight a lot of parents because they think that their lacrosse player needs to play year-round in order for him to earn a scholarship to play in college,” said McLain. “(But) if there’s anything I’m particularly proud of is the fact that, in a time when we are really fighting sports specializations, we were able to field really competitive teams with kids who are not (playing) their primary sport. The other interesting things is, we have had six kids who signed on the NCAA signing date with big Division 1 colleges like UNC and BC. Of those six, five of them played in the NEPSAC championships this spring, and none of them in their primary sport.”
Another of the undefeated fall ISL champion Govs teams was girls soccer, and after 28 years coaching at the academy, Mike Karin welcomes multiple-sport athletes.
“We have a core group of soccer players for whom soccer is their main sport,” says Karin. “They do play other sports as well. In particular, we have two players where soccer is not their primary sport. But they were major players because they are really good lacrosse players or basketball players. And I think that is key. They bring such a different skill set, and they all understand the team concept.”
Individual honors also come with success and Karin watched as his senior midfielder Siobhan McDonough was named All-American this season and will be playing for the University of Pittsburgh next year.
“It truly was a magical season,” says Karin. “This was a group of girls that really committed to playing as a team. They put individual honors aside and really committed to playing soccer the way it should be played.”