John F. Russell: Finding well-rounded athletes means looking beyond the field |

John F. Russell: Finding well-rounded athletes means looking beyond the field

— In my job, it’s easy to define young people by what they do on the playing field.

Often, I find myself saying, “Oh yeah, I know her. She’s a basketball player,” or, “Yeah, he’s a quarterback.”

There are times in our office when we talk about sources, and the first thing I do is attach them to whatever sport they play. Sorry, but for sports reporters, the world revolves around competition, and many of the young people we cover are tied to the sports in which we see them excel.

Gabby Douglas is a gymnast, Carlie Lloyd plays soccer and Russell Wilson, well, he’s a quarterback, of course.

This week, however, I was reminded that defining a young athlete solely by his or her sport — well, it’s wrong. While these youths may be volleyball players, wrestlers or soccer players, in most cases, there is a lot more than that to who they are. They are all students, some are actors or musicians and in almost every case, each is a valued member of our community.

They have families, they have jobs and they do a lot more than simply play sports. So it’s hard to explain why I was surprised as I watched Grace Wilkie play the leading role in Hayden High School’s production of “Annie Jr.” on Thursday evening.

As she stood on stage singing the lyrics to “It’s a Hard Knock Life,” I couldn’t help thinking, “Shouldn’t she be at basketball practice knocking down free throws?”

Truth is, after years of reporting sports, I’ve always had a hard time seeing the young people I’ve covered in different roles. Imagine what goes through my mind these days when I bump into a student athlete I covered years ago at the grocery store, now with family of his or her own.

I guess I’ve always suspected young athletes can do more than simply play a game. I realize they have to go to class and are required to remain academically eligible. As a father, I understand and support my son and daughter as they work to become well-rounded members of the community.

When I started working at Steamboat Pilot & Today back in the days of the typewriter and the darkroom, athletes in Steamboat Springs used to play a different sport in the fall, winter and spring. The really athletic kids could also be found on the field in the summer. It was rare for me to think of those athletes in terms of a single sport.

But times have changed.

These days, many of the athletes I cover focus on one sport the entire year. So I guess it’s become easier to associate a name with a single athletic endeavor. It’s hard to count the number of times I’ve said, “Oh she’s a snowboarder,” or, “He skis” when talking about sources. Sometimes, I’ve asked what happened to so-and-so because, for as long as I could remember, that athlete has played on a specific team. I hate to admit it, but there are times when a child becomes known by the sport they play.

I suppose it’s just the nature of the job. But I’m glad there are times I get to see these young athletes doing the other things they love; it reminds me that, behind every great athlete, at least in Routt County, there is normally a pretty well-rounded child.

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966

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