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Balancing Act 6/21/22

Balancing Act 

Multi-sport athletes learn to adjust on the fly

By Kevin Taylor

Alma Schools 


Jocelyn Harless keeps close tabs on her daily schedule. Not because the honor student is astute to those types of things.


But because she really needs to.  


It’s 11:38 a.m. on a mid-June Monday morning. Some of Harless’s classmates are at work. Some are still asleep.


Harless, her bright fluorescent green jersey on, the light bouncing off the beams high above Charles B. Dyer Arena, is working on a volleyball drill. 


Less than 24 hours later, the bright-eyed blond senior-to-be is battling the blazing sun on the softball field. 


Jocelyn Harless isn’t just one of volleyball coach Kim Weaver’s best players, she stands out for coach Charla Parrish’s softball team, too. And her schedule doesn’t stop there, either. 


Harless is a key member of Sara Murray’s dance program. 


“Normally, I don’t rest unless I absolutely have to,” Harless explained. “But at the end of the season last year, I did take three weeks off because I had a back injury during volleyball season, and I made it worse (with dance) until I was able to heal over the Christmas holidays.”


On a hot, dusty softball field, Julia Nutt is sipping cold water and whipping the sweat away. She, too, splits her time between softball and volleyball — one sport is climate-controlled, and the other (depending on the month) can be frosty or scorching hot.


“I’ve learned that you have to be mentally tough,” Nutt said. “Some days you have long days, and then you might have travel sports (practice). You have to have the mentality to take it one practice at a time, and always try your hardest.”


Favorite sport? 


“I can’t really decide on that,” Nutt said. “I love both of my sports.”


Sharing athletes is something Alma coaches pride themselves on.  


“Every coach wants what’s best for his/her program, but if you really look at the big picture and understand athletics, it’s important for those kids to do a lot of things,” head football coach Rusty Bush said. “Is it difficult to do all those things? Sure, it can be.”


Bush and basketball coach Dominic Lincoln share a number of athletes, including two potential basketball starters — Matthew Schlegel and Israel Towns-Robinson. The number of multi-sport athletes is endless. 


Alma girls basketball coach Codey Mann and soccer coach Cory Sturdivant share one of the school’s top female athletes in Presli Taylor. 


“With the multi-sport athlete, No. 1, one sport can help the other,” Bush said. “We talk about being only one Airedale and being this tight-knit community, and we’ve got to continue to buy into that and encourage our kids to be football players, to be basketball players, to be baseball players, to play soccer, and to run track — to do all those things.”


Playing multiple sports doesn’t mean you have to be great at both, Weaver said. The Lady Airedales’ third-year coach played volleyball and softball at Southside High School but excelled at volleyball enough to parlay her passion into a college scholarship to UAFS. 


“There may be one sport you’re all in on, and the other one is something you’re purely into just for the fun of it,” Weaver said. “(But) I think that plays a role in the kids’ mental health.”


“I love each of my teams, and each is different in a good way,” Harless said. “You really get to know all types of people.”


‘Community mindset’ 


It’s a far different world in 2022 than it was thirty years ago. Bush knows this. 


He also knows every school within the Arkansas Activities Association is burning the candle at both ends, too, as teams, coaches and players bare down on the impending two-week AAA dead period (June 27-July 11). 


The line of cars waiting for eighth-grade football players to emerge from the grandstands beneath the football bleachers stretches to Fayetteville Street. Two hours later, another string of cars has arrived to deposit more eighth graders — some of whom spent three hours earlier in the morning practicing football — for a two-hour basketball practice. 


For 13 and 14-year-olds, the ride is just beginning. And, if spending five and six hours at school three or four days a week sounds like a lot, consider many of Bush and Weaver’s multi-sport athletes are playing weekend travel ball, too. 


Branson Brogan plays basketball and baseball for the Airedales. Last week, he and his family were in Oklahoma City for an elite baseball tournament. 


Nutt and her family spent the weekend in Missouri at a travel softball tournament. 


“You have to be very careful not to burn them out,” Bush said. “But I think our coaching staff right now, district-wide, is on the same page. What we’re doing in the summer with what we’re calling SPA (speed, power, and agility), our purpose was to bring all our males on the same campus, whether they play football, basketball, or whatever, and we bring all our females and work them out together, whether it’s volleyball, softball or basketball, and let those kids be motivated by each other. 


“Just to continue that community mindset.”


“I think it’s great for injury prevention,” Weaver said. “Your body is undergoing a lot of different patterns. You’re not constantly doing the same thing over and over.”


Camden’s day 


Camden Curd has learned to use his time wisely. Playing two sports can be difficult, especially at the same time. 


“It takes an extra hour to perfect your game at both,” he said. “You have to be willing to put in that work because managing two at the same time is tough. But I feel like if you work, you’ll be just fine in both.”


Curd will spend much of the next nine months in the basketball gym, one of his passions, doing whatever he’s called to do for Lincoln’s Airedales. 


This summer, in addition to basketball team camps, including an overnight trip to Conway, Curd reaches for his Airedales’ baseball jersey, too. He batted fifth and started in left field as a freshman. 


This summer, he’s transitioning to third base. 


“It’s just going to take extra reps,” Curd said. “You have to find the time in your schedule to get yourself better.”


Extracurricular activities have helped Curd with his studies, too. 


“That has actually helped a lot,” he said. “Plus, my parents (Kelley and Brian Curd) are always encouraging me to do good. And my coaches are there, too, encouraging me to do good in the classroom.”


More of everything


Nutt says she’s found playing multiple sports means getting to know more people. 


“Being a multi-sport athlete, you’re way more part of the community than you would be with one sport,” Nutt said. “It’s two different kinds of people. With volleyball, I hang out with some of these girls, and with softball, I hang out with girls that aren’t even connected (with volleyball). 


“It helps you build your family.” 


The middle child of Sara and Toby Nutt, Julia is involved in Sherry Siler’s strong DECA program as well as being involved in Student Council. 


“I’ve learned to have an organized schedule, because if you don’t, things can get mixed up,” she said. “I’ve learned that communication with coaches and other teammates is very important. You also learn that you’re going to miss out on other things, too.”


“One of my favorite things about multi-sport athletes is that they typically have a different role on each one of their teams,” Weaver said. “Maybe they’re a six-rotation on the volleyball team, but they’re a pinch-hitter on the softball team. How do you manage those two roles?


“It helps you have a different perspective on what some of your teammates are experiencing.”


Harless plans to enjoy her impending break. But that doesn’t mean she won’t work out a little on her own...


“I’ll have to work out on my own to stay in shape,” she said. “But I’m not going to do anything that’s going to kill me.”