Sports in The Dominion Post

This article appeared in the Dominion Post Newspaper on January 20, 2004.
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Specializing takes a toll on prep sports


Welcome to today's world of high school athletics, Mike Contic.

For the past four years, Contic has dived head first into rebuilding the Preston High football team.

His first project was to improve the numbers on the roster, which he's accomplished.

Then, he set out to improve the players' work ethic, meaning he set out to get more players in the weight room and into camps over the summer.

To have any successful program, you have to have both of those facets, and Contic is finally starting to get the PHS program turned around.

There is another side to it all, though, and Contic is also beginning to see it as well.

You see, Contic is also the school's wrestling coach and while the football program is on the upswing, Contic admits the wrestling program is a big step behind.

So you wonder, maybe Contic isn't working as hard on the wrestling program as he does on the football program. Trust me, that isn't it.

What's starting to happen at Preston is what's been going on at Morgantown High and University High, as well as other large Class AAA schools, for the better part of the last 10 years.

High school coaches and athletes call it "specializing," meaning they concentrate on one sport throughout high school in hopes it helps them to develop into a college prospect.

Here's what happens: Contic, much like MHS coach John Bowers or UHS coach John Kelley, wants his players working out in the offseason.

Sometimes a football coach will give his returning players a month off after the season, but most players don't take that much time off. I remember after the Mohigans won the state title in 2000, returning players were in the weight room just three days after the championship game getting ready for the next season.

It may sound like too much is expected of a kid who's just 15 or 16 and, in truth, it probably is. The kicker, though, if our local schools aren't working hard in the off-season, you can bet schools like Wheeling Park, Riverside, Parkersburg South or Martinsburg are, which makes it very difficult to catch up.

So you ask kids to work hard for the football team. In turn, if a certain kid has some success in football, he tends to drop other sports he may be playing to concentrate on football.

There's nothing wrong with it, but other sports tend to suffer. Look at MHS. Just think how good its wrestling program would be if more football players participated, but few of them do.

The Morgantown High boys' basketball program finally began to break out of the football shadow a few years back once it started to get its own players to "specialize" in basketball and stopped depending on football players to come out for the team.

The UHS boys' basketball team has suffered in recent years, because the majority of the school's athletes are football players. The wrestling team, though, has thrived, because coach Ken Maisel has found a group of guys that only work on wrestling.

But what can Contic do? He certainly can't tell all the football kids to stop working hard and start playing other sports or the football team drops back to where it was before.

There is no easy answer, except to say what Contic already knows. He plans on building the program from the bottom, like he has in football. The first step is starting pee-wee and junior high programs so those kids can feed into the high school team.

Then and only then can the wrestling team be "special."

JUSTINJACKSON covers high school sports for The Dominion Post. Reach him at

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