Versatile Big Green athletes balance commitments on and off the field

by Matthew Mackey | 10/2/06 5:00am

Think it's tough being a varsity athlete at Dartmouth, trying to balance athletics and education and still fit the rest of your life in there too? Could you imagine having twice the commitment of a Division I sport, and still managing life as a student?

There are athletes at Dartmouth who don't have to imagine -- they're living it. Dartmouth is home to several two-sport athletes, a rarity in today's competitive Division I scene. That Dartmouth allows its athletes to play more than one sport is a testament both to the ability and skill of the athletes, as well as to the willingness of their coaches to accommodate them.

Being that Dartmouth is one of few Division I schools that still allow their athletes to compete in two sports, the College has proven to be a very appealing option for athletes who cannot do without playing two sports at the varsity level.

For Ben True '08, an elite cross country/distance runner and cross country skier, and Whitney Douthett '07, a captain of both the soccer and lacrosse team, Dartmouth's willingness to let them play two sports and the strength of the Big Green's programs were large factors in their college choice.

"Not too many schools offered both D-I running and skiing at the level that Dartmouth did," True said about his college decision-making process, "and those that were close were not as welcoming for my desire to compete in both ... [so] I was drawn closer and closer to Dartmouth,"

In addition to providing accommodations for athletes who come to college looking to play two sports, Dartmouth also has a fair number of two-sport athletes who came into their second sport after coming to Dartmouth or are otherwise focused on one sport more strongly than the other. Ben Lovejoy '06, a hockey and lacrosse player, came to Dartmouth to play hockey as his primary sport, but he was recruited by the lacrosse coach as well.

"I originally came just to play hockey," Lovejoy said. "Coach [Bill] Wilson, the lacrosse coach, was great to me, and invited me to come out, and was very accommodating, and he really made it happen. He was very supportive and got me to [play lacrosse]."

Some members of the football team similarly have a primary commitment to football, but are also able to run with the track team or play for the Big Green's baseball team -- and have done so with success.

Jason Blydell '08 was recruited to play football at Dartmouth but also continues to play baseball, a sport he has played all his life. Brian Evans '08, John Manning '08 and Peter Pidermann '10 have each suited up for both the football and track squads. In his freshman season, Kyle Cavanaugh '09 saw playing time for both the football and baseball teams.

"Generally, most of the prospects we have come in, usually it is a football-first interest, but an interest in playing another sport," football head coach Buddy Teevens '79 said of his two-sporters. "Thus far, our guys have proven it can be productive for both [teams] they've been contributors...There's a lot of pride going out and watching the 4x1 relay with our guys running."

While a two-sport athlete often must deal with conflicts in off-season training routines and commitments to each sport in turn, playing two sports offers several benefits. For an athlete whose sports require different training methods, in True's case for example, the cross-training provides a solid buffer against injury. Similarly, by being able to shift focus from one sport to the other each season, burnout from overworking in a single sport is avoided, allowing a two-sport athlete to tackle each sport head-on while in season.

"There are definitely commitment conflicts when playing both sports," said Douthett, "but both teams and coaches have been incredibly supportive and understand the conflicts.

"I actually think playing both sports has helped me excel in each of them -- soccer and lacrosse consistently translate into each other and I have been able to avoid getting 'burned out' in either of the sports."

While it certainly takes a willing athlete to make a two-sport player at Dartmouth, it also takes a fair bit of cooperation between coaches to ensure that the athlete stays healthy and productive for both teams. Dartmouth's coaches have proven to be very flexible in this regard -- while naturally preferring specialization, if a given athlete can maintain decent grades and continually produce it's hard for any coach to stand in the way of an athlete with the desire and ability to play two sports.

When asked about True competing in two sports, men's track and cross country coach Barry Harwick '77 said, "I think that Ben thrives on the two sports. Earning All-American honors in both cross country running and cross country skiing shows me that Ben has disproved any doubters out there."

Speaking about the football players who run track, Harwick again noted the beneficial aspects of playing both sports, even while acknowledging the possibility for serious injury that football presents.

"We certainly hope that guys do not get hurt in football, but those guys really want to do both so we wish them well," he said. "The work that these guys do with the track team will make them faster and better football players, so I see two sport athletes as a 'win-win' for the students and each of their teams."

Said Teevens of two-sport athletes, "It's an uncommon mindset [for an athlete to have], because people want to focus towards one activity, and at times you do encounter other sports with folks who want guys to do solely their sport, but I tell my guys, if you have the interest, you'll be given the opportunity."

At Dartmouth the commitment to one sport alone is often enough to put a damper on one's social life and a strain on academics, but despite playing two sports these athletes manage to survive and thrive as well as most. Careful structuring of time and diligence when it comes to getting work done is necessary, but the net result is still a healthy and productive Dartmouth student.

"For the most part," True said, "it's all a matter of putting your head down and getting your stuff done."

According to Douthett, the demands of playing two varsity sports have not altered the way she orders her priorities.

"Something that that has helped me out the most is maintaining a good perspective on what is important," Douthett said. "While soccer and lacrosse have been an integral part of my life I also realize the importance of my academics and community involvement in addition to enjoying the social aspects of Dartmouth. Playing two sports at Dartmouth has afforded me the opportunity to meet some amazing people and has helped become not only a better athlete but a better person as well."