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Oregon State played in the Liberty Bowl Baker's senior season. The field in Philadelphia was frozen. Baker, wearing basketball sneakers, went 99 yards from scrimmage for the only touchdown in the Beavers' 6-0 win. Later, bruised from being repeatedly brought down on the hard surface, he flew to Corvallis, went through one practice with the basketball team, flew with it to the University of Kentucky Invitational Tournament and was an all-tournament selection. "That was possible simply because toward the end of football, Prothro would let me miss a couple of practices a week to go practice basketball. Find a school where you can do that today."
Baker refutes the charge that a three-sport man is necessarily a jack of all trades, master of none. "Basketball helps football," he says. "In the open field, one-on-one, I'd just revert to basketball moves. The synergism makes you better at any of them, because you're basically playing athletics. They all support one another. It may be that people asking you to specialize are saying something like, 'You'll be a better thinker in sociology if you don't take any math courses.' "
What today's three- and four-sport athletes are hearing from college recruiters doesn't portend a return to the days Baker recalls. With a few exceptions, an SI survey of multisport high school athletes shows they have a clear understanding that specialization will be required in college.
Brian Howard, a senior at Rockville High in Rockville, Md., as a quarterback led his school to a 9-1 record and as a guard to the state basketball finals twice; as a shortstop-pitcher in baseball he was batting .455 at week's end without a single strikeout. In fact, he hasn't struck out since his sophomore year, and he has been an All-Metropolitan Washington selection in three sports. According to his baseball and football coach, Tom Manuel, "The larger colleges ruled out more than the one sport for which the scholarship was offered. Some smaller schools okayed basketball and baseball, but none would approve three sports."
One detects a certain arrogance in some colleges' views on participating in more than one sport. Kent Austin of Brentwood, Tenn., a quarterback, point guard and pitcher-infielder, is going to Ole Miss to play football. "They tell me if I can make a real contribution in baseball I'll be allowed to miss spring football training," he says. "You can't get off from spring football just to be a member of the team."
Some exceptional athletes have chosen colleges because the schools will allow at least two sports. Sean Salisbury of Orange Glen High School in Escondido, Calif., a 6'5" quarterback and forward and pitcher-outfielder, wants to play football and basketball at USC. "I'd like to do well. But I won't lose myself in football. I love basketball, too," he says. "USC understood that. A lot of schools didn't."
Firmness like that is rare. More pervasive among multisport men is the feeling that specialization is the way, and they are bound to follow.
Jones says that had he been exposed to the same imperatives he might well have given in, too. "I do wonder what would've happened if I'd gone to an NCAA school," he says. "Would I have been a failure? A star? Or a good contributor? I know it would've been in one sport only, with that urgency for specialization they have. I don't know how well I would've accepted that world, the downplaying of scholarship, the stockpiling of athletes. I guess it's fine if it meets the needs of everyone involved."
One wonders if it does; whether there might not be quite a few athletes with goals similar to Jones'. "I'd want to advance my education and be absorbed in my sport," he says, "and it's a lot more absorbing to do three than one. My approach might be comparable to what a decathlete does in compromising his 1,500-meter running to being a better shot-putter and getting a higher total score. You have to look at the whole of one's intent."
Jones' remarks call for reflection, and Lewis and Clark has the campus for that. The college, established in 1867, has occupied an estate on Portland's Palatine Hill since 1942, when it bought the mansion of M. Lloyd Frank, a department-store magnate who had built it in 1924 for $1,300,000. Ten years later he ran off with a salesgirl, a competitor's salesgirl at that, and his wife and family permitted the mansion to decline. In 1942 they let it go to the college trustees for $46,000. "Weasels, foxes, deer and skunks were common," reports a school history. "The great pileated woodpecker nested on campus in 1943."