Saturday, September 24, 2016 || By Tre Brown || OPINION || @maywoodnews
The Proviso area has a long and rich history of gifted athletes. The legendary basketball courts at Tenth Park in Maywood and Memorial Park in Bellwood have cultivated many of these athletes.
From the rubber ball strike-em-out games on the local grade school walls to the after-school two-hand tag football games in the street — true athletes were created during these competitions.
But basketball comes first in this community. With multiple state championships, SunTimes Player of the Year Awards, countless All-State & All-Area players, not to mention the NBA players who are born and raised in this area, it goes without saying that hoops is number one around here. Period!
But that being the case, many basketball stars from this area also played multiple sports — a reality that the younger generation may not know.
Former NBA small forward Michael Finley, for instance, played quarterback during his youth for the St. Eulalia Knights. They don’t know about former NBA point guard Dee Brown’s dual threat skills as quarterback all four years at Proviso East.
They never saw the film of former Proviso East standout and NBA forward Sherrell Ford playing defensive end on the varsity level. They don’t know about former NFL free safety Ray Buchanan’s love for baseball as he played in the Maywood Little League with his brothers, Richard and Ryan.
They don’t know that former NBA player and current coach Doc Rivers played baseball for his father’s team as a youth. Former Proviso West Panther and Dallas Cowboys’ lineman Flozell Adams wrestled and threw the discus in high school.
The list goes on.
In the 1980’s, there were well over 300 kids playing football in this area for the Memorial Park Spartans and the St. Eulalia Knights. There were many local, future basketball stars filling those rosters.
Both football programs were winning consistently with deep playoff runs every year. When the St. Eulalia program folded, the Maywood Bucs started a new era in the community and kept the winning tradition going. Throughout the 1990’s and early 2000’s, the registration lines successfully continued with the Spartans and Bucs, with plenty of parental support and positive vibes in the community.
With AAU basketball spreading like wildfire, the number of kids who play football in this community has dropped dramatically. The kids who once were “two-sport athletes” began focusing on one sport all year round. And more kids are looking for personal trainers for skill development in order to give them the best chance to be great at their sport of choice.
Don’t take my word for it. Data from the Sports and Fitness Industry Association bears this point out. Across the country, fewer and fewer children are choosing to play multiple sports, when they decide to play sports at all.
For the naturally gifted, choosing to focus on one sport from grade school through high school won’t guarantee anything. Then again, there are some kids who are being pressured into succeeding in only one sport, not realizing that there is more than one path to take.
“I came from the state of Louisiana, which bred NFL players, so I had the love for football when I moved to Maywood,” Ford, a 1991 Sun-Times Player of the Year while he was at Proviso East. “It makes you more physical and better able to absorb contact. It also keeps you in shape with conditioning and makes you light on your feet. So when basketball season came I was ready.”
The baseball programs in the area have also taken a tremendous hit in numbers as well. Even with Proviso East having a state championship and a host of local players having been drafted to professional baseball teams, these days, kids just aren’t being signed up to play.
“As a kid, my dad put me into all sports to see what I liked,” said Walther Lutheran Bo Flowers, Jr. Flowers was a 2002 Sun-Times Three-Sport Male Athlete of the Year and signed with Arizona State University to a full baseball scholarship. Right out of high school, Flowers was selected by the Detroit Tigers in the 5th round of the MLB Draft.
“When you’re young, you really don’t know what to play,” he said. “I was five years old when my dad put me out there. As time progressed I started getting good at it.”
The number of kids going out for the track and softball teams has also declined, because both sports were taken out of the local grade schools years ago.
College coaches aren’t turned off by a one-sport star, but a multi-sport player has more than one platform to present his skills. Football helps a player with his toughness, basketball helps a football player’s feet, baseball helps a basketball player with his hand-eye coordination and track helps with explosiveness.
But you have to be honest with yourself. If you are going to sit on the bench and not be able to contribute to the team, maybe you need to be in the weight room or playing another sport.
“Playing two sports helped me keep my grades intact by being disciplined and helped me keep that competitive edge,” said Antoine Lewis, a former Proviso East and Purdue University defensive back. “Most of the guys I played with in college played multiple sports in high school. The majority of college programs prefer to recruit multi-sport athletes.”
In addition to locally raised pro athletes, many athletic superstars have played multiple sports as well. LeBron James played wide receiver in high school. Hall of Famer Allen Iverson was a star quarterback in high school. Even Tom Brady was drafted into major league baseball before enrolling at Michigan University.
And the list goes on — from Jameis Winston and Charlie Ward to Deion Sanders and Bo Jackson. So many superstar athletes have used their talent in multiple sports to receive college scholarships and, in turn, degrees. With that education, they’ve become teachers and even caches who went back to their old neighborhoods to back.
“Opening doors. It’s all about opening doors,” said former Maywood Buc and Proviso East three-sport athlete Donnell Brown, who currently serves as director of football operations for the nonprofit Athletic Konnection and a variety football assistant coach for Chicago Hope Academy.
“Opportunities like these [playing multiple sports in high school] create opportunities for our children’s future,” he said. “As a community, we have to understand that. To use myself as an example, I had dreams of playing college and professional football. I was able to achieve that through the Maywood Bucs. That gave me a great start. Those kinds of programs kept me focused on academics and I achieved a four-year bachelor’s degree with the same discipline that I received at home and, secondarily, in multiple youth sports programs.”
There are many reasons put forth to explain why young people aren’t as active in multiple sports as they were in the past. There’s been speculation, for instance, that kids aren’t physically active because of the rise of technology and social media over the past 10 to 15 years.
The kids would rather stay home to play video games or have fun on social networks, instead of actually going outside. Kids who play freely outside tend to be more creative, have better personal interactive skills, better emotional skills and learn to love having fun.
Another factor leading to the decline in multiple sport athletes could be fear. Parents are afraid of their children getting concussions from playing football and just won’t let them participate.
But even granting the concussion issue, football isn’t the only sport that’s suffering from lower enrollment numbers. Feeder programs are suffering across the board — baseball, wrestling, track, softball, you name it. Even basketball hasn’t had the numbers it’s supposed to have at the lower levels, where children learn the fundamentals.
The basketball courts aren’t crowded with kids on a daily basis anymore and neither are the local gyms. The baseball diamonds aren’t filled with kids. The football fields aren’t filled with kids. The non-sport programs at our park districts don’t have registration forms that are filled to capacity either.
Where are the kids? VFP
Tre Brown has coaching experience in basketball, football and baseball at numerous high schools in Chicago and the suburbs, including Proviso East, Walther Christian Academy and Luther South. He’s also a former assistant football coach with the Maywood Bucs and a current baseball coach with the Maywood/Bellwood Little League.
Brown is the director of operations for Athletic Konnection, a Maywood-based sports nonprofit that helps youths develop athletic skills in multiple sports.
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