Specialization in youth sports has robbed a lot of student athletes of countless memories and left their scrapbooks at last half empty.
We all know how it goes.
A youngster shows some talent early. A club or AAU coach starts talking about how “Junior” will go to Duke or UCLA if the family listens to him. Several years later after many checks have been cashed, reality occurs.
“Junior” gets a walk-on opportunity at Septic Tank Community College and the club coach won’t return phone calls. "Junior" missed out on several opportunities to play other sports in high school with his friends, and the club coach buys a new car.
Andrean senior Matt Lelito didn’t focus on one sport at 5959 Broadway. Although on paper you would think he would. The 59er's have one of Indiana’s best baseball programs so most all of the players put all their time into stickball.
That allowed to ‘Niners to win last year’s Class 3A state championship. But on Saturday, Lelito and his teammates will run onto the floor at Lafayette Jefferson High School to play Frankton in the Class 2A semistate. Just 32 minutes from playing for hardware at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
“I’ve been playing basketball since seventh grade,” said Lelito, who is from St. John. “I loved it. I couldn’t give it up. I had to do both.”
Andrean hoops coach Brad Stangel is very happy the 6-foot-5 post did just that. While Lelito doesn’t get a lot of headlines in his role as a defensive stopper who scores here and there, he is a very important part of this talented roster. It takes a village in red and gold.
“Matt’s had the same role for us the last three years,” Stangel said. “We didn’t have many big guys his sophomore year so we threw him to the wolves. He’s athletic and strong. He always guards the other team’s best post and he’s had some really big games for us.”
Andrean’s gymnasium is one of the Region’s best gyms. A classic. Lelito and his mates have noticed that all the banners hanging in the crackerbox have state numbers underneath. Except for hoops.
In 1980 and 2000 the 59ers have made it to state in boys hoops, but have yet to chop down the nylon in Indy. They are now just 32 minutes away from having another shot at it.
“We talk about it all the time,” Lelito said. “We want to put a number up there.”
Lelito will play baseball at Kankakee Community College next year. He plans to use that experience to draw attention from a bigger school, where he will study Kinesiology.
This team has trailed in the fourth quarter of every postseason game but one. Almost all of their games have been down to the wire white-knucklers. But Stangel has seen a group of young men who will not quit.
“They don’t want this to end,” Stangel said.
“We do not want our season to end,” Lelito added.
I hope more youngsters and their families learn from Lelito. Play all the sports you can for as long as you can. Youth sprints quick. Enjoy as many experiences as you can. You never know what might happen.
“I don’t get nervous in any games,” Lelito said. “I’ve been in these positions many times. I’ve played in semistates and state in baseball. I’ve played in tough sectionals and regionals in basketball. I feel like we trust each other and we know what we can do.”
Now, that’s special.