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I had a dove, and the sweet dove died;
Once we extinguished species with forthright zeal, as in the slaughter of the passenger pigeons. It being impossible to imagine their clouds ending, we kept blazing away right up to their unexpected extirpation. These days, however, species are not endangered by such direct assault, but by alteration of their environments. Sometimes change can beget change so subtly that it's hard to know the consequences of even the best-intentioned acts. A tree is cut, a hillside erodes, a stream is filled, a habitat is gone.
And so, too, it is for men. It seems clear now that an environmental shift has all but finished off a revered family of sporting creatures, athletes who were once the glory of American seasons, the college three-sport men. Perhaps they were never numerous enough to be considered a breed. Rather, they were splendid mutations, inordinately gifted with the facility for acquiring athletic skills, with the prodigious energy necessary to race from one sport to another and with a love of incessant testing that struck deep chords in observers. Looking back, it seems that their names have come to stand for the nation's sense of its own raw talent and versatility. Jim Thorpe (football, baseball and track at Carlisle), Jackie Robinson (football, basketball and baseball at UCLA), Jim Brown (football, basketball and lacrosse at Syracuse). Robinson and Brown added a fourth sport, earning enough points in spot appearances in track meets to letter in that sport also. Robinson, in fact, was the NCAA long-jump champion in 1940. One would have thought them the most adaptable of men, not the least.
But they are almost gone. A SPORTS ILLUSTRATED survey turned up just one at an NCAA Division I college, Peter Lavery of Dartmouth, a sophomore who competes in football, hockey and baseball. Is he the last Division I three-sport athlete? And, if so, who served in the last rank with him?
In small colleges this year, SI's survey found a scant few three-sport men and only two who play the hallowed trinity of football, basketball and baseball. Scott Boone is a wide receiver in football, a guard in basketball and a centerfielder at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Ind. Dan Jones of Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Ore. is a wide receiver, guard and third baseman. Boone is a senior and thus, in a few weeks, Jones may well become the last football-basketball-baseball three-sport man in the country. A close look seems in order, both at a necessarily special man and at the school that has sustained him while other institutions have allowed, or forced, his kind to expire.
Here was Dan Jones a year ago, taking batting practice indoors, standing at one end of a hazy, green tunnel of netting. He was—and is—6'1½", 195 and slightly bowlegged. He took a big stride as he swung, the bat coming around level. The sound of contact was remarkably sharp, almost the cold, percussive note of a chisel striking stone. Jones had swung at 25 pitches. This was the 24th he had hit solidly. It was his first day of baseball practice his sophomore year.
"Other multiple-sport athletes I have known," said Mickey Hergert, his baseball coach then, "tend to say that they're tired from basketball, that they need time to get ready. But Dan doesn't need to detach himself from one to prepare for another." Indeed, his last basketball game had been the Friday before.
Fielding at third base, Jones trotted kind of ploddingly between plays, but when he went after the ball, his movements became quick and sure. In his freshman year he was the All-Northwest Conference third baseman and hit .338, driving in 21 runs in 18 games. As a sophomore he played the outfield, proving himself a generalist even within sports, hit .371 and received NAIA All-America honorable mention. The fall term of that year he attained a perfect 4.0 grade-point average in physical science, statistics and speech classes. Jones is majoring in business communications, the sort of combined curriculum that Lewis and Clark, a private liberal-arts college of 3,100 students, takes pride in tailoring to the needs of the individual.
It happens that Hergert played baseball, football and basketball at Jefferson High in Portland with Terry Baker. Oregon State's 1962 Heisman Trophy winner, who also played superlative basketball and baseball, and thus was the state's last great major-college three-sport man, although after his freshman year at Oregon State Baker played only basketball and football. "Jones is faster and stronger than Terry was," says Hergert. "And, like Terry, he has the instinct to do the right thing at the right time. I think he'll be a pro draftee in both football and baseball by the time he's out of here."
Jones' football credentials include 107 receptions for 2,045 yards and 18 touchdowns in his first three seasons. In 1979 he earned NAIA All-America honorable mention. He has also successfully kicked 29 of 35 extra-point tries and four short-range field goals.