A game for all seasons

John Browne
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Two-sport athletes were common in this province in the 1960s and '70s, and if you go back farther, it was not uncommon to read about multi-sport participants.
But times are changing as some coaches, teams and associations stress the elite athletes playing and training for one sport all year round.

Shane Boland of Goulds is not only an accomplished softball player, having played for Canada’s national junior team in addition to his accolades in the local senior league and on the International Softball Congress circuit, he’s also a talented hockey player, recruited to the senior ranks by the Gander Flyers while still junior age. — Softball Canada file photo

Players like Ian Campbell and Tols Chapman of St. John's or Jimmy Guy and Mickey Walsh of Corner Brook, for example, played both senior baseball and hockey during their stellar careers. Go back to the 1940s and '50s and you had to admire an athlete like Ted Gillies who was a standout in baseball, hockey, soccer and track and field.

St. John's native Bill Breen played several sports growing up, and competed in senior soccer and hockey in the 1970s and '80s as an adult.

Like many teens, Breen played a variety of sports, including badminton, table tennis, soccer, hockey and basketball.

Yes, it's hard to imagine Breen, a tough hockey player and solid-as-a-rock soccer player, participating in table tennis and badminton, but he swears those sports helped his conditioning.

"I played every sport I could in high school, because I wasn't too good at the books," said Breen.

He did play some senior basketball, as well, though he had to give it up because he didn't have the time during hockey season.

"If the (basketball) boys needed me to fill in, I'd do it. But I'd foul out fast," he added with a laugh.

Breen said that even at the junior level, if he'd been asked by a coach to play one sport only, he wouldn't do it.

"No, because I found that you made different friends in different sports, so the more sports you played, the more friends you had. A lot of the guys I played with in various sports across the province I see from time to time and we're still friends, even though we played hard against one another back in the day."

Breen, along with his brothers John and Bobby, and Johnny Hearn all played hockey and soccer coming up through the various levels.

Breen said he doesn't think he would have been able to participate in one sport all-year round.

He felt playing a number of sports helped him become a better athlete in each of his sports.

Breen said his daughter, Brittany, played basketball, volleyball and soccer through her school years.

He said he would leave it up to the individual when he or she wanted to play either one sport or a variety.

"Let them play want they want, because I always felt it made them feel better to be involved in sports and to be around a lot of teammates," he said.

An example of a top-notch, multi-sport athlete today would be Shane Boland.

Boland, from Goulds, is a good example to today's young athlete who is proficient in two senior-level sports.

His home run to lead off the bottom of the first inning was the winning run as the Bulldogs beat the Hitmen 1-0 in Game 7 of the Molson St. John's Senior Men's Softball League final last month. He hit .429 with four home runs during the regular season. And, this past winter, Boland had 16 points in 21 games for Gander Flyers of the Newfoundland Senior Hockey League.

Storm baseball player and Conception Bay North CeeBee Stars hockey player Mike Dyke is another good example of one of today's elite multi-sport athlete.

An outstanding defenceman with the CeeBees, Dyke was named an all-star outfielder and winner of the John Cheeseman Memorial Award for most sportsmanlike and ability this season in the St. John's Molson Senior Baseball League.

The 28-year-old Gander native, who also plays ball hockey and picked up touch football this year, said there was never a conflict between hockey and baseball in his career.

"Growing up in Gander, when you finished playing hockey in the winter you switched to baseball in the summer," he said.

Dyke admitted it would be "tough to say" if he would have given up one sport to concentrate on another one year-round if he'd been asked the question as a teenager.

"I don't think I would, because I loved baseball just as much, if not more, than hockey growing up. I loved both sports and I love making the switch."

He said he liked the idea of taking a break from winter to summer sports.

"I agree with those who say it's a good idea to take a break and clear your mind for a bit. It gives you time to refocus when it's time to start up a new season in a different sport. It's like recharging, I guess."

Dyke said playing different sports helped him develop as a better overall athlete.

Having said that, he added that if an athlete has the potential to go far in a sport and play at an elite level, "then you can't really fault someone for going that route," in terms of concentrating on one particular sport year round.


Organizations: Softball League, Newfoundland Senior Hockey League.Storm, Conception Bay North CeeBee Stars

Geographic location: St. John's, Corner Brook, Gander Goulds

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