Varsity athletes make up about one-fifth of the Harvard undergraduate student body.
Their friends are accustomed to their busy schedules—early mornings or late afternoons for practice, games on weekday nights and weekend afternoons, and hopefully time for classes, schoolwork, and relaxation in between.
Trying to balance the demands of a Division I college sports team and a top-tier academic university can understandably become difficult.
But some individuals take this time-crunch to a whole new level by participating in not just one, but two varsity sports—and often excelling at both.
Take Melanie Baskind. The junior starred this past season in soccer and lacrosse, achieving All-Ivy first-team status in both sports.
In soccer, Baskind tied for first in the Ancient Eight with nine goals—including three game-winners—and was second in the conference with 22 points. The forward was named team captain for the upcoming 2011 season, a role she already holds on the women’s lacrosse team. In that sport, Baskind played midfield while finishing third on the squad in points with 34 and fourth in goals with 28. Through it all, she was able find time to excel in the classroom as well, and was named to the ESPN the Magazine Academic All-America second team.
“Trying to make up ground [transitioning from one sport to another] in a short period of time has been difficult,” Baskind said. “[So is] dealing with the physical piece of it—trying to figure out how hard to push myself without going overboard.”
But in playing two sports, Baskind said, the benefits outweigh the downsides.
“It was a bit of challenge, particularly in the spring after I got named soccer captain, just trying to balance my time and not spread myself too thin,” she said. “But for all the difficulties, it’s the best thing I do here, and it’s just been such a positive experience that it’s all definitely worth it...It’s more than anything just really enjoyable.”
It is a sentiment that freshman Matt Brown is just beginning to share. The guard came to college planning to play basketball after he was recruited out of high school by Harvard coach Tommy Amaker. But upon arriving at Harvard and receiving the permission of his coaches, Brown decided also to play football, a sport in which he was first-team All-New England as a high school wide receiver.
“I spent my whole career playing two sports, so it was always in the back of my mind,” Brown said. “I kind of wanted to see if I could give that a shot here. Thankfully, [football] coach [Tim] Murphy and coach Amaker were supportive, and they gave me the opportunity.”
Brown’s case is unique because the seasons of his two sports overlap, and he had to miss the first few games of the basketball season due to his football commitments. But Brown has been accustomed to that type of challenge before.
“When people ask me how I [play both sports], I really don’t know anything else,” Brown said. “Obviously just playing one sport and doing school is hard, so I don’t think it’s that much different [playing two]. It’s probably just a bit more time, a little bit more work on the body.”
Throwing passes to Brown on the field this past season was Andrew Hatch, the senior quarterback who transferred from LSU in 2008. After sitting out the 2009 season because of NCAA transfer rules, Hatch started three games under center for the Crimson this year.
As his final year of eligibility was winding down, Hatch decided to try out for the baseball team as a pitcher during spring workouts. He ended up excelling, finishing with a 2-0 record and 1.84 ERA, the second lowest on the team.
“I guess the main difference [between playing two sports and one] is the time commitment,” Hatch said. “All year round, if you play two sports, you really don’t have an offseason at all, so that was the main challenge. That with the academics constantly keeps you pretty busy.”
Like Baskind—who lettered in soccer, lacrosse, and ice hockey in high school—and Brown, who did so in basketball, football, and track and field, Hatch was also a high school three-sport star.
He says he would often ask himself whether he would have been better off simply focusing on one. Yet despite the challenges and extra time commitment, the senior says he would advise anyone in a similar situation to keep playing the sports he or she loves.
“I always feel that if you have the opportunity to do it, you might as well go for it because opportunities are limited, and when you finish college, you don’t have those opportunities anymore,” Hatch said. “[So] I would say play what you enjoy, and enjoy it more than anything.”
—Staff writer Scott A. Sherman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.