Monday, August 19, 2013

Former High School Star Predicts End of High School Sports

Annie Adamczak-Glavan is a DECC Athletic Hall of Famer, Class of 2012.

At Moose Lake High School, she's a legend. Adamczak-Glavan helped the Rebels win ten state championships between 1978-82. In her senior year, the three teams she played on -- volleyball, basketball, and soccer -- went a combined 71-0.

Her sport was volleyball, though. She played it at Nebraska, earning All American honors in 1985. She also played it professionally. And now she trains young people in the sport as her day job.

Club 43 is an academy based in Hopkins, focused on training young athletes in volleyball. As Sunday's Duluth News Tribune notes, it's the kind of academy Adamczak-Glavan herself decried as a youngster.
Before her senior basketball season at Moose Lake High School, star athlete Annie Adamczak said a club volleyball team asked her to play for them instead.

“I told them, ‘Are you crazy? I’m not going to give up one night of my high school basketball season to play volleyball,’” she recalled. “You just didn’t do that — you played for your school, you played for your hometown, and you wore those school colors."
With Club 43, Adamczak-Glavan is doing exactly what someone tried to get her to do back in the 1980s.

And she thinks she's in front of a growing trend, one that will lead to the end of high school sports as we know them.
“I honestly think you won’t have high school sports in 20 years — they’ll be done,” said Adamczak-Glavan, who won five state titles, including volleyball, basketball and softball championships as a senior in the 1981-82 school year. “Why? It costs money, (high schools) don’t have the facilities or the training and they can’t offer the expertise that I can offer. I have a plyometric trainer, video equipment, two or three coaches and other players I can bring in to go against them. I can train on Sundays or Wednesdays, at 10 o’clock at night, year-round.

“A high school practices from 3:30-5, and maybe if players are lucky, they will have a coach who played in high school. And it costs money. Why would the high schools continue to do it when they can hand it off to clubs like mine?"
Sunday's story by the extremely hard-working Rick Weegman has touched off a firestorm of reaction from people who work with or follow high school sports.

And this commentary isn't at all critical of the paper or the reporter. I think the story is presented well, and it's a valid discussion to have as the fall sports season launches for high schools all over the place.

But there's a problem: Adamczak-Glavan comes across as misguided at best, and self-serving at worst.

High schools have the kinds of facilities she talks about in the story, and they have highly-trained and highly-motivated coaches who surely aren't coaching to make money. Proctor football assistant coach Nate Johnson commented on the Minnesota State High School League's Facebook page Sunday, addressing this article.
The people who I coach with and against are constantly going through continuing education courses and clinics, not only for their specific sport(s) but also are constantly trying to learn to be better coaches and examples to our athletes. In some cases we are required to do this, in most we do it on our own time and with our own money. Why do we do this? Because we care deeply about our athletes. We want to be the best for them. We want to provide them the best opportunity to excel that we can. Sometimes the teams we coach win, sometimes they lose. In both cases the high school coach is there to teach life lessons. Not to cash a check from the parents.
That last sentence is a bit of a dig at Adamczak-Glavan. Why? Well, according to Club 43's official website, it isn't exactly cheap to send a player to her Hopkins facility. Including a $300 deposit for all ages, fees range from $1,800 or $3,100, depending on how old a player is.

In case you're wondering, the highest participation fee for a high school sports team in Duluth is $500 (hockey at Denfeld and East). No one else pays more than $235. Want to play volleyball at Proctor? It'll cost you $120, and if your family qualifies for free or reduced lunch, it's $95. Hermantown is $130 for all sports except hockey ($180).

I know. This isn't the Twin Cities.

Hopkins, where Club 43 is located, charges a fee of $230 per sport, no matter the sport. And if a child takes part in three or more sports, the fee is halved.

Academies like Adamczak-Glavan's certainly do good work. If they didn't, they wouldn't exist anymore. But the former Moose Lake star has plenty of testimonials on her website, and surely there are plenty of happy customers.

But the prediction of high school sports' demise is misguided, possibly self-serving, and absolutely premature. Until these academies are more affordable for everyone, there's no chance of Adamczak-Glavan's prediction becoming a reality. And even once that happens, it isn't as if high school teams are incapable of cultivating and churning out elite athletes.

For every Jamie Langenbrunner, who left Cloquet High School to play major junior and then ended up having a very good NHL career, there's a guy like Derek Plante, who chose to stay in school, go to college, and also had himself a nice pro career.

High schools produce multi-sport stars, like Matt Niskanen (Virginia/MIB) and Austin Pohlen (Grand Rapids), and they allow numerous kids the chance to play more than one sport while they get their education.

Adamczak-Glavan doesn't seem to think that's the right way anymore, either. She told Weegman her daughter cut herself down from three sports to one -- volleyball -- in the sixth grade. She feels that giving up all but one sport is the way to go now.

I completely disagree with this as well. There's no book on how to treat every kid, but there are plenty of articles to be found on the internet arguing that specialization at a young age is not a good idea.

The biggest reasons for this, I believe, are twofold. For starters, it sets up the risk for burnout. I know plenty of families in this area who spend practically the entire summer trucking kids to hockey tournaments. I've overheard parents talking about their kids playing 50-70 hockey games over the course of the summer.

The summer. That's preposterous.

The other reason? Because it's quite common that such specialization isn't about the kids. It's about the parents living vicariously through the kids, and the promotion of such specialization is more about the dollars involved (i.e. the amount of money a family forks over for a kid to play on a select or AAA hockey team) than it is about making the kids better hockey players.

Bottom line: Minnesota high school sports aren't going anywhere. The club/academy model might be viable in small areas, but it's got a long way to go before it's ever going to overtake what community-driven sports teams can offer.

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