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Club-only athletes miss high school competition

Carissa Bauer finished the 1A state championship cross country race in 25:05 and in 44th place. When asked about her St. Joseph teammates who had just helped her earn the 1A state title, she waved her hand and modestly said she wasn't in their league.

But the beauty of high school sports is that Bauer's willingness to get up at 5 a.m. every day to train and compete with runners who have more natural ability means that they all get to hoist that state championship trophy in the air. Something most of them could not accomplish alone, they can do together, and it is an accomplishment meaningful not just to them but to the community that they represent.

That's why the decision of more than a half dozen soccer players is weighing heavy on my mind this weekend.

At least eight girls opted not to play soccer for their high school squads because their club coach felt it would be to their advantage to train with their club team during the two-and-a-half month prep season. He admitted to another Deseret Morning News reporter that he encouraged them not to play high school soccer in an attempt to refine their skills and improve their chances of getting college scholarship offers.

He — and their parents — did what they thought was best for these student-athletes' soccer and collegiate careers. After all, what parents don't want to see their children earn a free education playing a game they love?

And while this group of adults may have done what was best for the scholarship opportunities of these girls, they did them a disservice as human beings.

One of the girls who skipped her high school season missed out on the chance to earn a state title with her prep teammates. I'm sure if she knew this summer, when she made that decision, that her school's team would earn a state championship, she'd have reconsidered. According to her high school coach, she was already on the radar of college coaches and likely would have earned an athletic scholarship.

The sad reality is that kids can have both positive high school and productive club experiences without sacrificing anything.

I am not opposed to the club soccer system at all. In fact, I believe the club system has benefited women most because it's not only raised their skill level, it's provided them opportunities to travel and be exposed to collegiate programs that traditionally don't have much money to recruit female athletes.

I am opposed, however, to the all-or-nothing attitude of some coaches and parents.

While club sports have helped the evolution of women's athletics in many ways, there are drawbacks to these privately run athletic programs. First, they cost money, sometimes a lot of money, to play. Second, and most disturbing, is that there always seems to be a coach or two who feel that their club team participation is all that should matter to these young athletes.

I cannot count the times I've heard coaches, parents and even student-athletes tell me that club coaches required specialization in a sport and sometimes commitment to only the club team. This may be good for their soccer skills, but it's not good for their development as young people.

There are aspects of high school sports that cannot be duplicated by any club system.

When you wear your school colors you are representing your friends, your classmates, your school and your community. You play with athletes who are much more talented and with kids who just want to be a part of something at school. If you are one of those few Division I athletes, you learn to lead, to teach and to understand that you have gifts that others would love to have and that it's best not to squander that opportunity.

When you represent a school, you are part of honoring traditions and creating pride in whatever it is you accomplish on behalf of those who wore those colors before you. You forge friendships, and then when it matters most, you run faster than you thought you could because you don't want to let those friends down.

High school sports is still the best of athletics. And any coach who wants his players to miss out on that experience doesn't understand what player development really means.