Home > Dougherty: The dark side of playing multiple sports | USA Today High School Sports

Dougherty: The dark side of playing multiple sports | USA Today High School Sports

John Jay defender Braden Burke attempts to stop a shot during last spring's Section 1 Class B final against Yorktown.

John Jay defender Braden Burke attempts to stop a shot during last spring’s Section 1 Class B final against Yorktown.

Braden Burke made a valiant attempt to get up and line up for the next play.

More than once.

The sophomore wide receiver from John Jay was two impressive catches into a new season when he suffered a broken fibula.The injury alone was a source of great concern.

It wasn’t the only issue.

Burke is a standout in three sports. He can also hang with the best on the basketball court and is a prized defender in lacrosse who committed to play at Duke a month before the awkward landing.


“It was the first game so I was pumped,” said Burke, who snagged two Hunter Keech passes for 77 yards in a matter of minutes. “The first catch I made kind of got me in the zone, and when I caught the second one, I was running and somebody caught me by the sleeve and pulled me down. I felt my leg snap. I knew it wasn’t good. I  was frustrated and devastated at the same time.”

Trainers were on the scene in an instant and within 10 minutes, the ambulance was on the field at Byram Hills.

It was a scary scene for a high school kid with a promising future in another sport. Yes, the mind was racing. Getting hurt was a concern weeks before the sideline tackle resulted in a broken leg.

There were a couple of sleepless nights in the aftermath, too.

“I was very nervous,” Burke said. “I was hopeful there wouldn’t be any long-term effects. Luckily, it missed the ligaments and nerves, so there are none. I was happy to hear that. It was a straight break through the fibula.”

He is walking the John Jay sideline now without crutches and is thinking about coming back before the end of basketball, if the doctors sign off.

In the spring, he’ll be again hounding the best attackmen in the section.

We celebrate multi-sport athletes, those special few standouts at schools large and small who possess talent and versatility.

And we should probably recognize the ranks are dwindling.

This is where the conversation routinely drifts to specialization. Maybe it’s time we dial that down and stop blaming shrinking rosters on the growing number of student athletes who are pursuing a single passion.

It’s a personal choice.

“You really can’t play well if you are thinking about getting hurt,” said Brewster quarterback Matt Catalano, who also has his moments on the basketball court and baseball field.

The kids who are playing multiple sports are comfortable with the injury risks.

“You know what, I keep things like that in the back of my head, but whatever happens, happens,” said Yorktown middle linebacker Justin Cavallo, who recently committed to Albany for lacrosse. “They love the fact that I play football.”

It’s a tough call.

A majority of athletes choose to experience all that high school has to offer, but a few headliners may have a dream to play at the next level along with the special talent required to make it a reality.

Burke doesn’t know whether he’s going to be playing football next fall.

“i’m not sure,” he said. “I haven’t given it much thought. I’m going to see how this heals up and see how lacrosse season goes. I don’t want to get hurt in the future, but I do like playing football so I’m going to weigh the pros and cons and see where it goes.”

That is exactly the right approach.

“I was thinking about it this year, too, and decided to play,” Burke said. “I like football a lot. I like playing out there in front of the fans, being with teammates and coaches. You have to know that’s bigger than the possibility of getting injured. There’s nothing better than a Friday night game.”

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