Since moving to Wallowa County from the Washington, DC-metropolitan area, maybe my biggest "culture shock" has been the concept of dual-sport athletes. In small rural towns, with high schools like Wallowa, Joseph and even Enterprise hovering around the enrollment of 100-150 students, the handful of athletes that double on sports in the same season are doing the teams a big favor. The talent crop is so tight to begin with.

Back in Montgomery County, Md., every coach had a surplus. In the 15 gigantic public high schools - with around 3,000 kids each (plus the other 20 high schools teaching about 1,000 and more) - most varsity athletes had at least a dozen other students ready to take their spots.

However, during the last three years at Wallowa High, other spring sports threatened to wipe out track and field. In 2004, baseball returned. Last year was the softball program's first season. The options ballooned from just two (including golf) to four. In the process, more than half of the track kids defected, and there weren't many students to fill in the gaps.

But this spring, coach Dawn Crow has 20 runners. That's still not back to the original level, but it's an increase after the precipitous drop. In six cases, they might have played something else, but the possibility of being a dual-sport athlete allowed them to stick with track.

"That first spring, we went from 34 down to 15," Crow said. "But with dual-sports, we're closer to getting back to the old numbers. A lot of that can be credited to Geoffrey Long and the season he put together last year."

On the baseball diamond, Long, an outfielder, was named to the first-team All-League. At the same time, his long and high jumps qualified for the state championship meet.

The problem is that the people who simultaneously play multiple sports are bound to have scheduling conflicts - practices at the same time, games on the same day, or games that are 100 miles apart. Not only that, Joseph track coach John Roberts said that he won't allow any of his runners to double because it's impossible for them to make a full contribution.

"The way I see it, if a kid's on a team - any team - they have to give 100 percent to that sport," he said. "If your heart's in baseball then, by all means, put all of your heart in baseball. The worse thing would be if they're here half the time, doing track on a 60-40 basis, or 50-50."

Hector del Castillo is the Chieftain's sportswriter. You can e-mail him at hdelcastillo@wallowa.com.

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