Dual-sport athletes make it work, playing two sports in one season

Reece Walling of Prairie is one of many taking advantage of waiver to allow athletes to play two sports in same season

Like all high school athletes, Prairie’s Reece Walling played the waiting game, hoping to be able to compete.

Fall sports did not happen on time.

The winter season did not start on schedule.

The spring schedule was up in the air.

Then there was hope.

An abbreviated fall sports season for Class 4A and 3A schools was given the OK. 

Soon after, plans for winter and spring sports were announced.

Reece Walling appreciates the opportunity to play two sports in one season. A junior at Prairie High School, he excels in baseball and shines in basketball. Photo by Paul Valencia
Reece Walling appreciates the opportunity to play two sports in one season. A junior at Prairie High School, he excels in baseball and shines in basketball. Photo by Paul Valencia

Unfortunately for Walling, winter and spring sports were to be played at the same time.

“I was kind of devastated,” said Walling, a junior who stars in baseball and shines in basketball. 

Athletes, after all, were not allowed to play two sports in the same season.

Then again, fall and winter sports had never been offered at the same time. 

The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association hustled, making fast change to the regulation. A waiver was added, allowing for concurrent participation if certain guidelines were met. 

And now, Reece Walling hustles every day from the baseball field to the basketball court.

Walling is one of the many athletes at the big schools in Southwest Washington who are playing a winter sport and a spring sport in the same time frame. Katie Peneueta of Heritage is another, excelling in basketball and track and field. A freshman at Battle Ground, Candice Adams, is on varsity basketball and softball. Too many to list, in fact, when including the numerous dual-sport athletes at the junior varsity and freshman levels of competition. 

The key is communication. Athletes and coaches must be on the same page.

“The COVID season has brought its challenges,” said Cameron Chilcote, Prairie’s baseball coach. “One of them we didn’t really expect to have is the sharing of athletes. However, I feel like if anything the pandemic has taught us, it’s about being able to cooperate more. Brooks and I do a lot of cooperation.”

That would be Prairie basketball coach Kyle Brooks, who is one of the reasons Walling was crushed when he first learned that the two sports seasons would run concurrently, before he knew he could play both.

“I love playing for Coach Brooks,” Walling said. “He’s such a good guy.”

Brooks, after all, is making his own triumphant comeback to the basketball court. Last winter, before COVID and pandemic were in our everyday vocabulary, Brooks was stricken by Guillain-Barre syndrome. His immune system was attacking his nervous system. 

He has been in rehabilitation after a long stay in a hospital, and he was ready to resume coaching duties if and when there was a season this academic year. 

Walling wanted to be there, too. Except, well, he’s a baseball player first. Walling has made his intentions known that he will sign with Washington State baseball in November.

“I enjoy playing basketball for Coach Brooks, and he is back this year. I was just hoping I could do both. If I wasn’t able to, I probably would have done baseball,” Walling said.

This was a potential problem only for athletes of the big schools. The Class 2A and 1A schools in the region are playing spring sports now and will start winter sports soon. 

The problem for the big schools, though, was solved. As long as the school administration was OK, and there was a plan in place to ensure an athlete was not overworked, an athlete could try both sports in the same season. (This is only allowed for athletes playing a winter and a spring sport. An athlete cannot play two winter sports or two spring sports. Also, an athlete can only play one contact sport. Basketball is considered a contact sport, but baseball is not.)

“The administration at Prairie is super great,” Walling said. “They are open to this. They are so flexible.” 

Jason Castro, the school’s athletic director, had a meeting with Walling before the seasons started, just to go over the guidelines.

The WIAA’s waiver includes a stipulation that athletes cannot practice or compete for more than 18 hours in a week. 

For Walling, that means some days he is practicing for an hour with the baseball team then an hour with the basketball team. 

“I’m just grateful to be out here playing both sports,” Walling said.

“I love playing for Coach Brooks. He’s such a good guy,” Walling added. 

While baseball is his top priority, he loves being on the court, too.

“It’s just an outlet from baseball because I play baseball year round,” Walling said. “It’s fun to get out and do something different.”

Brooks said he has welcomed this new challenge. During the first week of practice — tryouts — Brooks and Chilcote worked it out that baseball would practice right after school, but boys basketball would start in the evening. 

“Reece’s personality, he’s so easy going and ready to go that he makes it fun,” Brooks said. “He’s all in with both sports, which is really nice.”

Teammates also should get some credit. A basketball practice has been moved to 7 p.m. on a day when Walling had a 4 p.m. baseball game. The coaches said their players have been understanding. Everyone wants it to work out in these unprecedented sports schedules.

“Reece is doing a really good job communicating with both coaches,” Brooks said. “We haven’t had a hiccup. Everything has gone really well.”

Last week, for the first time, games were scheduled on the same day. Walling had a hit and drove in a run, then hustled to the gym to score 13 points. Prairie won both games that day, which means Walling went 2-0 that day. 

“I thought I was going to be doing OK, but after that basketball game, I was really tired,” Walling said. “I have been a lot more tired than I thought I would be.”

But, he added, it is all worth it.

As Walling’s baseball coach put it, Walling has this season and his senior year to play basketball. Walling hopes to be playing baseball for years after high school.

So while the athletes are in high school, school administrators and coaches are doing what they can to provide the most opportunities for their athletes during the pandemic sports schedules.

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