Before his long and storied career as the head football coach at Virginia Tech, Frank Beamer was a three-sport standout at Hillsville High School. Earning 11 varsity letters in football, basketball and baseball, Beamer was selected to the All-Southern U.S. team after throwing for over 20 touchdown passes in 1964.
Yes, Beamer was the typical All-American kid when he graduated from Hillsville High School in 1965. But now the all-time active wins leader in all of college football, Beamer has witnessed first-hand the slow “death” of the three-sport athlete since he first began recruiting in 1973 in his first season as an assistant at The Citadel.
As competition increases for the ultimate prize of a scholarship at a major Division I university, so too has the specialization of each sport. Spring football is now a major part of high school sports programs in many states across the nation, while AAU basketball programs operate year-round. Even baseball now has fall ball to offer kids a chance to play many more games.
To put it in comparison, Beamer said when he first got into college coaching, a typical football recruiting class of 25 players probably had 20 guys who were 3-sport athletes, or 80 percent. Now that number is closer to 10 percent.
“I would say in a recruiting class of 25, there might be three or four maybe,” Beamer said of today’s three-sport athletes. “You don’t see much of it anymore.”
Beamer took over as the head coach of the Hokies prior to the 1987 season, but he said he can’t pinpoint an exact year or time when the emphasis shifted away from playing three sports.
“I do know it is very rare any more to have a guy play three sports. There are a lot of them that play two, maybe something in the fall and in the spring. But the problem is it has gotten to where each sport is so inclusive,” Beamer said. “They sort of overlap each other so much a guy has to be really gifted to start and play in three sports.”
The coach of four ACC championship football teams, Beamer sees positives on both sides of the coin. At Virginia Tech, he’s had football players such as former Cleveland Browns’ wide receiver Andre Davis run track, while All-ACC quarterback Bryan Randall has doubled on the basketball team.
“My feeling on that is that if you’re good enough to contribute to the team and have some success, then I encourage you to go ahead and do the other sport. I think there are lessons in working hard and being successful and gaining recognition,” Beamer said. “Being active, being involved, I think you gain something from every team sport.”
On top of that, the time demands required of a three-sport athlete make it even tougher to make the grade in the classroom. But as Beamer said, if you are gifted enough to play three sports, you probably will want to go to class.
“I think having success (athletically) helps you academically,” he said. “I think if you are enjoying it and have the ability to do it, certainly you should do it.”
But for many of today’s athletes, sticking to one sport and staying with it is the best and fastest ticket to a college career. Such is the case for Carroll County senior baseball star Reece Edwards, who has signed to play baseball starting next fall at Concord University.
A rare four-year starter for Carroll County’s storied baseball program, Edwards earned first-team All-Region IV and honorable mention All-State accolades last season as a junior. He recently completed a Q&A interview with The Carroll News explaining why he choose to give up football and basketball to pursue a career in baseball. His answers are as follows:
Q: Why do you choose the sport you did?
A: I always played it when I was a kid. My grandpa loved it. Me and him would always work at it and practice it together. I liked it the best. I played the other sports, too, growing up but my grandpa and I had a special thing with baseball. It was my favorite and I am lot better at that, too, which helped a lot.
Q: Do you miss playing sports you have given up?
A: Yes, I was going to play football my 10th grade year, too, but with all the summer workouts I just couldn’t fit it around my schedule. I played 100 baseball games a summer, so I couldn’t work three-hour football workouts and basketball workouts into that, too. But I really do miss them. I played 9th grade basketball and I loved it. Coach Hale wanted me to play football, but he just couldn’t have me missing that much.
Q: Has focusing on one sport helped your chances of earning a college scholarship?
A: It has helped a lot just because you spend that much more time working and going to camp and getting recognized. If I was working toward three sports there would be more injuries with football and basketball. You are able to get a lot more recognition playing one sport because you are able to do so much more.
Q: Are you playing your favorite sport or the sport that will best help you get to college?
A: It’s both for me. Regardless, I would have played sports in college. That is just want I wanted to do. I like the atmosphere of sports.
Q: When did you choose to become focused on a single sport and why?
A: My 10th grade year just because of the time involved and the work you had to put in to be real good at one sport. I wanted to try to be the best I could be at one and that is why I choose baseball.