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Student-athletes aren’t getting summers off

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The current generation of high school athletes isn’t familiar with the concept of a three-month summer vacation.

It’s safe to assume coaches and parents carry only vague recollections.

The enticement of playing travel sports, coupled with relaxed coach-player restrictions in Indiana, has whittled away at the gap between school years like never before.

Eras during which equipment hibernated in dark storage areas during the summer months are gone forever.

How you play the game, while still a vital component for sportsmanship reasons, now plays second fiddle to whether you actually win the game.

This is where summer is so vital. It serves as the season before, or after, the season.

“There are some (coaches) who have the willingness to relax what they do in the summer, but there’s also this fear if we don’t play in these 7-on-7 (football) opportunities or we don’t play in these summer basketball leagues that (other programs) are going to get ahead of us,” Indiana High School Athletic Association commissioner Bobby Cox said. “And (a coach’s) job might be on the line, so they feel like they have to keep up with the Joneses.”

Though not officially summer, June, July and August used to be packaged together and relished by students, teachers and coaches as a time of relaxation.

Time with friends. Swimming pools. Sleeping until the crack of noon.

These are foreign luxuries to many of today’s high school athletes, who are accustomed to their alarm sounding at 6 a.m., or earlier, to remind them a weight room, gym, soccer field or running course awaits.

At the same time, it’s difficult to miss what you’ve never known.

“Basketball takes up my entire summer, other than the moratorium week. In June I work out with my high school team. Once July comes, it’s all AAU until the beginning of August,” Center Grove senior Michael Benkert said. “I don’t feel cheated because in June I would be done by 7:30 or 8 in the morning.

“That leaves me the whole day to go to the mall, swim or whatever.”

“Sometimes I wish I could lay around or go hang out outside,” Franklin Community volleyball player Jess Admire said. “But there are days you want to be in the gym with your teammates. They’re my best friends.”

Focus shift

High school seniors such as Benkert and Admire were between their preschool and kindergarten school years when the IHSAA began allowing coaches to instruct athletes during the summer of 2002.

Much like the multiclass boys and girls basketball tournaments, it’s all today’s high school athlete knows.

Furthermore, a moratorium was included to give all parties involved one week in which such instruction would not be permitted.

“We once had pretty big restrictions. The schools and the coaches were complaining that the AAU coaches and the club coaches and all these other people were ruining their kids, and they wanted to have more contact with them,” Cox said. “That’s one of those where you better be careful what you ask for because now we’re at that point. And now we’ve got coaches wanting to revert back to some more restrictions.

“I hear coaches speak to their athletic directors, and subsequently they ask about, ‘There is no more summer’.”

At Center Grove High School, this summer serves as a perfect case in point.

The Trojans boys golf team extended its season as far as possible, placing sixth at the IHSAA State Meet on June 18.

Now consider school begins July 29 at Center Grove because of the balanced calendar, and the IHSAA has designated Aug. 4 as the first day of practice for most fall sports.

So much for the tradition of two-a-days, which are no longer a part of most high school football teams.

“With boys golf finishing, the fiscal year, and the corresponding budget report, wrapping up on June 30, camps, clinics and the new school year beginning on July 29, there was not much left of what people traditionally think of for a summer break,” Center Grove athletic director Jon Zwitt said. “(Assistant athletics director) Scott (Knapp) and I are both in the office, on days that we are technically off, trying to put some pavement down for the upcoming school year and subsequent athletic seasons. It has become a year-round experience, with very little down time.

“But our coaches and players continue doing it with a smile. We adapt and we improvise.”

More moratorium?

Although not a cure-all by any stretch, additional moratorium time is always an option for IHSAA-member schools.

“Schools do it on a voluntary basis. We have a moratorium week that everyone observes, but then there are other schools in our membership that declare a second moratorium week for whatever reason,” Cox said. “If you’re a rural school and the county fair is a big deal, maybe that’s the week you take off. Or if you’re an urban school in the city of Indianapolis and Black Expo and other events that are in town and are very important to your school community, maybe you take that week off.

“If the membership wants to expand the moratorium week, we would certainly entertain a proposal that would allow it to occur and our board would vote on it.”

This summer’s moratorium week (June 30-July 6) has passed, meaning coaches, athletes and those parents responsible for transporting their son or daughter to and from school are back to their familiar routines.

As Johnson County’s smallest public high school, Edinburgh, with an enrollment of 277 students, tends to produce its share of three-sport athletes — which means kids might jump from one sport’s summer practice to another, with little rest in between.

“We just do the one week (moratorium), but I’m a firm believer that if kids have family vacations they need to go. And if they miss something because of it that, they need to be excused,” Edinburgh athletic director David Walden said. “I still think kids need to be kids.

“They need to have a summer.”

Franklin athletics director John Regas agrees.

“At Franklin, we provide summer opportunities for student-athletes who want to enhance their athletic performance, but encourage them to spend time with their families,” Regas said. “We don’t have the mentality that spending time away is a bad thing.

“Kids need to be kids as well as great students and athletes.”

For the love of sports

Edinburgh’s Elliott Parmer’s so-called summer hiatus involves spreading himself as thin as possible, both athletically and in general.

A wide receiver and strong safety for Lancers’ football coach Bill Unsworth’s program in the fall, the 5-foot-8, 150-pound senior then shifts his focus to basketball before roaming center field for Edinburgh’s baseball squad in the spring.

In a time of athletic specialization, Parmer — who estimates he works 35 hours a week as a lifeguard at the Edinburgh Aquatic Center, and even took an online class recently — is a throwback in the most flattering sense.

“Of course you’re always busy trying to soak up everything the coaches tell you, but every sport teaches you things for another sport,” Parmer said. “Everything can be moved over to a certain extent. I’ve done three sports since sixth grade and wouldn’t want it any other way. I like staying busy.

“You try to be productive every day because it makes you a better person.”

There are times Parmer meshes aspects of all three sports into a single day, starting with 7 a.m. weightlifting sessions with his football teammates. Then it can be a 9 a.m. baseball workout with basketball gym time scheduled that very evening.

“Everyone is tugging on him three different ways. I don’t know if there’s a time when (Parmer) is off other than moratorium week,” Edinburgh boys basketball coach Drew Glentzer said. “It takes a special kid to do that, and he’s a starter in all three sports.”

Parmer believes an extra moratorium week might be counterproductive in terms of coach-athlete communication, but understands why some high schools incorporate it.

“A two-week breather would have been pretty cool, but there would have been a lot of lost time, too,” he said. “I like the one week.”

What the future holds

Whether the blueprint on when high school coaches and athletes interact between school years remains in its present form remains to be seen.

Both extremes have been part of the IHSAA’s bylaws, which means some form of middle ground might be worth exploring.

“What we’re getting feedback on is member schools want flexibility,” Cox said. “They can all live with one week that’s dictated by the association, but they may want to do the week right before practice starts. A lot of schools don’t even allow the kids to come in and lift. They just shut it down. Others will say they’re going to extend the moratorium to two weeks and work on their gyms and our fields.

“Others will say the week after school lets out is off limits because we’re going to let the kids have a week away before we come back. It depends on the school and what their culture provides, and we’re fine with that.”

Greenwood Community High School football coach Mike Campbell believes the balanced calendar is as much to blame as anything.

“I do think that a lot of the onus can be put on the schools themselves. If I were (IHSAA) commissioner, I would stay away from the balanced calendars,” Campbell said. “Greenwood is on a modified balanced calendar, and there’s talk we may go to a full one.

“If a school is starting July 24, that’s a school issue, not an athletic issue.”

Center Grove boys soccer coach Todd Sheely said a second moratorium week would be a step forward. With schools often letting out for summer vacation at different points of late May or early June, it would then be up to that school’s administration when to use it.

“That first week we’re out of school, maybe that’s our moratorium week, and then we have the second one when everyone else takes it,” Sheely said. “I look at some of my club soccer kids, and they’ve played between 40 and 50 games this spring. That’s insane.

“I feel it’s my responsibility to give them a break. I think it’s important to give these families a break.”

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