April 12, 2013

HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS: 3-sport athletes thrive on field, in classroom

By Gary Hawkins ghawkins@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

Dennis Meehan and Noell Acord shift gears more often than long-haul truck drivers stuck in city traffic.

click image to enlarge

FOCUSED: Shortstop Dennis Meehan is a three-sport athlete at Gardiner Area High School. Meehan plays football, basketball and baseball and says it helps him do better in the classroom.

Staff file photo by Andy Molloy

click image to enlarge

KEEPING BUSY: Noell Acord, right, plays soccer, basketball and softball at Richmond High School. Acord says, “It isn’t in my personality to not be doing (something).”

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

Each athletic season, the high school seniors trade in one jersey for another and this spring marks the last time they'll play for their schools, Meehan at Gardiner and Acord at Richmond. The two are among dozens of athletes in central Maine who have played three sports throughout their high school careers.

Rather than infringe on their time, sports help these athletes set a schedule to work studies around games and practices.

"It isn't in my personality to not be doing (something)," Acord said. "I like to be active. I see a trend in people who don't keep themselves busy."

Acord has started on 10 of the 12 varsity teams she played for in soccer, basketball and softball. She plays center field for her softball team that has reached the Class D state final three years in a row, was striker on two state championship soccer teams and guard for three Western Maine regional champs in basketball.

All this activity has affected her schoolwork in a positive way. Not only is she class valedictorian, Acord also participates in a number of clubs and non-athletic activities around school.

"I'm actually used to it," she said. "It's getting stressful with college coming up but people that are busy are usually pretty good at it."

Meehan is preparing for his fourth varsity season on the baseball team where he plays shortstop and is a starting pitcher. In the fall, he plays quarterback, defensive back and kicker for the football team and he's the point guard for the basketball team.

"It's tough at times, but it encourages you to get better in school," said Meehan, who maintains a B-plus average.

Ten or 15 years ago, some coaches, particularly at larger schools, were lamenting specialization in one-sport and the decline of the multi-sport athlete.

"I just know we have a lot of them," Cony athletic director Paul Vachon said of three-sport athletes. "I've never really seen the trend going to the one-sport athlete."

Vachon pointed out that nearly all the Cony students nominated for athlete of the year in their respective sports are three-sport athletes.

"For me it matters," he said. "If you're playing three sports, it just makes you a better athlete."

As girls basketball coach for 23 years at Cony, Vachon encouraged his players to participate in other sports. He pointed out that his 1995 state championship team was filled with athletes whose best sport was not basketball. His daughter, Amy, played field hockey and basketball, and when Maine women's basketball coach Joanne Palombo recruited her, she suggested she play a spring sport.

"She said she should be doing track," Vachon said., "Or she should be doing something."

Meehan plans to play baseball in college next year, either at St. Joseph's or Husson. If he attends Husson, he also plans on playing football. He's always been torn between the two sports.

"It depends on what season I'm in," he said. "Right now I like baseball more."

Acord loves soccer. She's been a four-year starter and goal scorer for the Bobcats, but she doesn't plan on playing next year.

"I'm going to Orono for biology," she said. "I don't think I could handle it even if I could make the team."

Athletic participation for Meehan, Acord and many high school athletes doesn't end in June. Acord has played soccer and basketball each summer -- Monday and Wednesday for soccer, Tuesday and Thursdays for basketball -- in addition to attending several soccer camps. Meehan plays American Legion baseball every summer and last July played baseball in a national showcase tournament in Omaha, Neb.

"I don't usually do summer basketball," he said. "I usually do Legion and work out for football."

Still, he lists one of his biggest thrills at Gardiner as playing in the Class B state championship basketball game his junior year. Acord said playing before big crowds in basketball at the Augusta Civic Center was one her favorite moments.

Both have avoided serious injuries throughout their careers and agree playing with friends and in front of family as a prime motivation for their passion.

"I just like being out there with all my friends," Acord said. "I love these people and this town."

Gary Hawkins -- 621-5638

ghawkins@centralmaine.com

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