On autumn Sundays, when the Brohms convene in the family home on a cul-de-sac on Louisville's southeast side, there's a touch of sitcom to the scene: an NFL game on the TV in the family room, a marker board nearby in case someone wants to diagram a play, a pile of yet-to-be-clipped newspapers destined for the family scrapbooks. Brian's three male elders will perform a postmortem on his most recent game, with his brothers slagging him for this or that missed receiver, or dredging up some shortcoming from the basketball or baseball season. Ever the competitor, Brian will descend to the basement to exhume an old score book, to throw back in his brother's face that time Jeff took an O-fer at the plate. "The pressure Brian has had to face outside our family is nothing compared with what he's faced at home," says Kim. "My brothers are on him all the time. It's like they're all dads, and Brian's their little project."
You have to get them out of Brian's earshot before the elder Brohm boys will pony up praise, but when they do, it's generous. "Brian's more of a polished quarterback than I was," Jeff says. "He can throw as well as anyone I've ever seen." And Jeff marvels at how much more demanding a three-sport schedule has become in the dozen years since he played. Neither Jeff nor Greg played travel-team basketball in the summer. And no seven-on-seven festivals; Jeff would simply throw to Greg in the backyard.
Small though Louisville is, it's not altogether surprising that Michael and Brian have never formally met. Michael once walked past Brian at a church picnic but didn't realize it until steps later when a buddy said, "You know who that was?" In leading Trinity to the state title last fall, Brian twice threw completions to a receiver who had beaten Michael; but Brian also remembers a rec-league basketball game when they were in middle school, helplessly trailing the play as Michael broke away for a dunk.
"Shoot," says Jeff, "they're too busy to meet each other."
How did the three-sport athlete become such an endangered species? As early as 1974, in our cover story on Renaissance athlete Bruce Hardy, SI was declaring that "specialization in sport is becoming the rule even in high school." But the trend struck youth team sports hard in the mid-1980s, with the emergence of travel-team soccer in the spring, which carried the high school varsity model to a younger and younger cohort, according to former NBA player Bob Bigelow, author of Just Let the Kids Play. Bigelow urges that specialization be postponed as long as possible, lest an athlete have a late-blooming body or a latent talent. He points to Bill Russell and Michael Jordan, who as high school sophomores stood 5'10" and 5'9", respectively. "About 150,000 boys will play sophomore basketball this year," says Bigelow. "If you were to rank Russell and Jordan by sophomore talent, you'd put them somewhere between 35,000 and 135,000, in that great broad middle."
There are many more examples like those two. Larry Walker didn't take up baseball until age 17, after being cut from a hockey team. Cynthia Cooper first played basketball at 16. Chris Evert and Tiger Woods may have specialized early, but John McEnroe and Jack Nicklaus played three sports in high school. Yet the days are probably gone when a Dave Winfield could get drafted in three sports or a Pat Richter could play three in the Big Ten or a Gary Kubiak could make three all-state teams in an athletic hotbed like Texas.
Three-sport athletes are still common outside big cities; small enrollments leave coaches in need of every available body. If you can still find a few in Louisville, it may be because that city is plopped down within a sea of Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio small towns that influence Louisville's character more than Louisville influences theirs. Louisville, after all, was big enough to produce the winners of the most recent Little League World Series and quaint enough to honor them with a huge, permanent sign at the airport.
With no major league sports in town, high school athletics enjoy a lofty status. That, in turn, can stoke rivalry among coaches who vie for a school's best athletes. "Our football and basketball coaches agree on a date in the summer when Michael Bush turns from one to the other," says Stewart, the Male AD. "But at some schools, they fight."
The biggest skeptics of Brian Brohm's decision to play three sports can be found in the Trinity High lunchroom, where his classmates are apparently already in training for an adulthood spent phoning talk-radio shows. "A lot of guys say I should just play football because I'm not as good at basketball," says Brian, with a roll of the eyes.
Beatty, Trinity's football coach, recalls counseling a 6'9", 275-pound lineman who was trying to decide whether to play basketball. This player had to deal with the same noontime second-guessers, half of whom told him he should spend the winter in the weight room getting stronger and half of whom told him he should play basketball, to prove to football recruiters that he had nimble feet. "He came into my office almost in tears," Beatty says. "I said forget about your mom, your dad, your peers, the basketball coach and the football coach, and just ask yourself what you really want." (He wound up playing basketball.) Indeed, it's the kid who isn't as good as Michael or Brian who tends to be dragooned into playing a single sport. He doesn't have the clout to get the football coach to push spring practice back 40 minutes, so he can get his cuts in the batting cage—an accommodation that Beatty has made for Brian.