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A byproduct of the pandemic: Four-sport athletes are now a thing in high school sports

Shane Henrick grew up playing travel soccer, but switched to football in the ninth grade. Normally he'd be starring on the offensive and defensive line, but with football moving to the spring, he's returning to his roots with the Methuen boys' soccer team.
Shane Henrick grew up playing travel soccer, but switched to football in the ninth grade. Normally he'd be starring on the offensive and defensive line, but with football moving to the spring, he's returning to his roots with the Methuen boys' soccer team.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

St. Mary’s varsity boys’ lacrosse coach Josh Field grew up playing golf, but once he reached Newton North High School, he had to put that sport on the back burner to concentrate on football and lacrosse.

So when the MIAA officially postponed football to a “Fall II” season this school year due to the coronavirus pandemic, Field encouraged his son, Jackson, a sophomore at St. Mary’s of Lynn, to seize the chance to play golf this fall.

“When this opportunity came up, as a parent, I encouraged [Jackson] to make the most of it,” Field said of his son, who plays varsity lacrosse, basketball, and football at St. Mary’s.

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“With everything going on with COVID and not knowing what can happen next week, we have to take advantage of what we have today.”

Plenty of student-athletes are picking up another sport this fall, as they try to make the most of a significantly-diminished athletic calendar. The one silver lining to be found in all the postponements is the opportunity for student-athletes to diversify their athletic experience by playing four sports.

Some states, such as North Carolina, allow student-athletes to play multiple sports in the same season, with star athletes participating in as many as five sports in the same year. But the chance to earn four varsity letters in the same year is new to Massachusetts.

“What a great experience this will be for the kids,” said Bishop Fenwick athletic director and football coach Dave Woods. His son, Steven, is one of four athletes playing four sports at Fenwick this year.

“Everything we do in athletics is to prepare kids for life in the real world, so the more situations we can put our athletes in, the better . . . From a strictly athletic position, we believe it avoids overuse of certain muscle groups, and we have also clearly seen that kids who play multiple sports do better academically when they are in season.”

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Steven Woods is a three-sport athlete who stepped in at quarterback due to injuries and helped Fenwick win the Division 5 Super Bowl last December. He also plays basketball, outdoor track, and is picking up golf this fall while maintaining a 4.2 GPA.

So, Woods is getting a first-hand look at how diversification can enhance the student-athlete’s experience.

Field is also seeing his son, Jackson, flash academic and athletic potential. The 6-foot-3, 180-pound, 16 year-old saw court time during the Spartans’ run to the Division 3 state semifinals last winter, started at cornerback on the football team last fall, and scored eight goals as an attack on the lacrosse team during his eighth-grade year.

When he was 10, Jackson attended a Nike golf camp at Curry College, and the Swampscott resident kept up with the sport by training with assistant pro Keith Bursey at Kernwood Country Club in Salem. Now he’s playing for the two-time defending D3 state champion Spartans, and shot a 49 (over nine holes) in a narrow loss to Arlington Catholic (148-147) in their season opener last Wednesday.

“At [St. Mary’s] there’s a great history for every sport, golf included,” Jackson said. “I take every sport seriously when it’s in season. [Playing four sports] . . . it’s a lot to stay on top of it. I just have to make time for everything.”

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With football not in play this fall, St. Mary's sophomore Jackson Field has transitioned to the golf team for the Spartans.
With football not in play this fall, St. Mary's sophomore Jackson Field has transitioned to the golf team for the Spartans.COURTESY PHOTO

Shane Henrick, a senior three-sport athlete at Methuen, is playing soccer this fall. The 5-foot-11-inch, 200-pounder grew up playing travel soccer, but switched to football in ninth grade, where he stars on the offensive and defensive line.

Henrick is also a starting defender on the lacrosse team, throws shot put during indoor track season, and found time to play backup goalie with Methuen’s indoor soccer team as a sophomore.

As it became increasingly clear that football would be postponed this fall, Henrick began playing informal soccer scrimmages for Methuen, and made a formal commitment during tryouts.

He finds time to lift weights and attend playbook sessions with the football team — schools can allow out-of-season coaching because the MIAA waived a rule prohibiting it this year — but Henrick is always on time for soccer practice, where the intensity he’s acquired on the gridiron shines through.

“Shane has been really good ever since he joined us,” said Methuen boys' soccer coach Henry Marin. “He’s very vocal. His leadership out there, the way he communicates and gets the guys motivated, even if he’s not on the field, it’s been awesome.”

On the back line, Henrick reunites with his friend and lacrosse teammate, Aidan LaFlamme, who played soccer with him throughout middle school.

Those relationships are the primary reason that Henrick — and many other student-athletes — said they never considered taking the fall season off from official competition.

At Bishop Stang, Liam Corrigan is usually playing wide receiver, cornerback, and kick returner for the football team in the fall. This year, he is running cross-country instead, which he said has drawn some good-natured ribbing from his gridiron teammates. Of course, his football coaches are fully supportive of his cross-training efforts.

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“Since I was 5 years old, I’ve been playing a sport every season,” said Corrigan, a senior who ran varsity indoor and outdoor track last year after playing basketball and baseball his first two years at Stang.

When the outdoor track season was cancelled last spring, Corrigan picked up surfing. He’s also an avid skateboarder and, as the son of a ski and snowboard instructor, knows how to get down a mountain in style.

“My coaches know I like to mix it up. I love self improvement. I’m always trying to stay active and that sure beats being inside,” said Corrigan.

“By running cross-country, I can build endurance, then narrow down to sheer speed in winter track, then transfer that over to football.”

With Stang debuting in the Catholic Central League this fall, Corrigan will run against Bishop Fenwick’s Colby Brown, Troy Irizarry, and Jacob Vargus, three athletes who are also pivoting from football to cross-country.

Distance running has been a different challenge for Vargus.

“I was able to take the disappointment of no football, and turn it into an opportunity for me to make friends and learn a new sport,” said Vargus.

Vargus also plays varsity lacrosse and helped found Fenwick’s varsity wrestling team his sophomore year, serving as the program’s only letterman that season and winning two state tournament matches in the 145-pound weight class. Wrestling is his passion, but if the pandemic costs him his winter season on the mat, Vargus said he won’t hesitate to run indoor track instead.

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For many student-athletes and coaches across the state, the shock of losing the entire 2020 spring season has changed their perspective.

Acton-Boxborough three-sport star Graham Brady served as football and hockey captain as a junior last year. Then the Ithaca-bound attack had a shot at being named lacrosse captain, but the season was called off.

Now he’s on Acton-Boxborough’s golf team, picking up a sport he’s played sporadically since he was 10, and is grateful for the opportunity.

“I feel like it happened so quickly in the spring,” said Brady. “We were getting prepared and all of a sudden we didn’t have a season.”

“I miss the competition the most. Being able to compete against an opponent every week is why I play so many sports. [Golf] isn’t the same as Friday night lights, but it’s a level of competition that you need be prepared for, because everything matters and counts, no matter what sport it is.”

Shane Henrick has put in the work at practice to be a regular for the boys' soccer team at Methuen High.
Shane Henrick has put in the work at practice to be a regular for the boys' soccer team at Methuen High.Jim Davis/Globe Staff