I had a dove, and the sweet dove died;
And I have thought it died of grieving:
O, what could it grieve for? Its feet were tied
With a silken thread of my own hand's weaving....
Once we extinguished species with forthright zeal, as in the slaughter of the passenger pigeons. It being impossible to imagine their clouds ending, we kept blazing away right up to their unexpected extirpation. These days, however, species are not endangered by such direct assault, but by alteration of their environments. Sometimes change can beget change so subtly that it's hard to know the consequences of even the best-intentioned acts. A tree is cut, a hillside erodes, a stream is filled, a habitat is gone.
And so, too, it is for men. It seems clear now that an environmental shift has all but finished off a revered family of sporting creatures, athletes who were once the glory of American seasons, the college three-sport men. Perhaps they were never numerous enough to be considered a breed. Rather, they were splendid mutations, inordinately gifted with the facility for acquiring athletic skills, with the prodigious energy necessary to race from one sport to another and with a love of incessant testing that struck deep chords in observers. Looking back, it seems that their names have come to stand for the nation's sense of its own raw talent and versatility. Jim Thorpe (football, baseball and track at Carlisle), Jackie Robinson (football, basketball and baseball at UCLA), Jim Brown (football, basketball and lacrosse at Syracuse). Robinson and Brown added a fourth sport, earning enough points in spot appearances in track meets to letter in that sport also. Robinson, in fact, was the NCAA long-jump champion in 1940. One would have thought them the most adaptable of men, not the least.
But they are almost gone. A SPORTS ILLUSTRATED survey turned up just one at an NCAA Division I college, Peter Lavery of Dartmouth, a sophomore who competes in football, hockey and baseball. Is he the last Division I three-sport athlete? And, if so, who served in the last rank with him?
May 10, 1981
In small colleges this year, SI's survey found a scant few three-sport men and only two who play the hallowed trinity of football, basketball and baseball. Scott Boone is a wide receiver in football, a guard in basketball and a centerfielder at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Ind. Dan Jones of Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Ore. is a wide receiver, guard and third baseman. Boone is a senior and thus, in a few weeks, Jones may well become the last football-basketball-baseball three-sport man in the country. A close look seems in order, both at a necessarily special man and at the school that has sustained him while other institutions have allowed, or forced, his kind to expire.
Here was Dan Jones a year ago, taking batting practice indoors, standing at one end of a hazy, green tunnel of netting. He was—and is—6'1½", 195 and slightly bowlegged. He took a big stride as he swung, the bat coming around level. The sound of contact was remarkably sharp, almost the cold, percussive note of a chisel striking stone. Jones had swung at 25 pitches. This was the 24th he had hit solidly. It was his first day of baseball practice his sophomore year.
"Other multiple-sport athletes I have known," said Mickey Hergert, his baseball coach then, "tend to say that they're tired from basketball, that they need time to get ready. But Dan doesn't need to detach himself from one to prepare for another." Indeed, his last basketball game had been the Friday before.
Fielding at third base, Jones trotted kind of ploddingly between plays, but when he went after the ball, his movements became quick and sure. In his freshman year he was the All-Northwest Conference third baseman and hit .338, driving in 21 runs in 18 games. As a sophomore he played the outfield, proving himself a generalist even within sports, hit .371 and received NAIA All-America honorable mention. The fall term of that year he attained a perfect 4.0 grade-point average in physical science, statistics and speech classes. Jones is majoring in business communications, the sort of combined curriculum that Lewis and Clark, a private liberal-arts college of 3,100 students, takes pride in tailoring to the needs of the individual.
It happens that Hergert played baseball, football and basketball at Jefferson High in Portland with Terry Baker. Oregon State's 1962 Heisman Trophy winner, who also played superlative basketball and baseball, and thus was the state's last great major-college three-sport man, although after his freshman year at Oregon State Baker played only basketball and football. "Jones is faster and stronger than Terry was," says Hergert. "And, like Terry, he has the instinct to do the right thing at the right time. I think he'll be a pro draftee in both football and baseball by the time he's out of here."
Jones' football credentials include 107 receptions for 2,045 yards and 18 touchdowns in his first three seasons. In 1979 he earned NAIA All-America honorable mention. He has also successfully kicked 29 of 35 extra-point tries and four short-range field goals.
In basketball he scored 15.3 points a game in the 1980-81 season and has a 51% field-goal shooting percentage for his college career.
Jones' nose angles slightly off to an observer's right, even though his clear blue eyes look straight ahead. As recently as last spring, when he was 19, he had an almost delicate mobility to his features, augmented by a fluffy shock of sandy hair, but that is fading. "His main flaw then was that of showing his emotions when he played," says Hergert. "When he made a mistake, he let his frustration affect him." Now, as Jones gets his feelings under control, his face is taking on a more impassive firmness. The eyes remain transparent, however, curious and intent.
"I like action, always action," he says while walking across the thickly wooded Lewis and Clark campus. "I came here because they'd let me play both baseball and football. Everyone told me it was impossible to fit basketball in. But I played with the varsity during Christmas break my freshman year and held my own. Fred Wilson, the football coach and athletic director, said, 'Heck, give it a try....' "
Jones passes the 35-room, slate-roof mansion that forms the core of Lewis and Clark's 130 acres. "I've always been mildly defensive when I've been kidded about being a jock," he continues. "I love sport, but school is what I'm here for. It took a while to come to that. I got a 2.3 for winter term my freshman year, and I became a student that year. Now I understand school as sport. It's an event, a competition with myself." Such a remark, he is told, says a lot about his concept of competition.
"Yeah, but different sports call for different frames of mind. In school I don't really compete. I mean I learn as much as I can and let beating the rest of them come as it will."
It seems strange to learn that Jones, as devoted to multiplicity as he is, already has had to abandon at least one calling, specifically a sport he loves more than any he now plays. "Hockey," he says, "I wish I hadn't given it up." He played it from age nine through his junior year of high school, not on an interscholastic team but in the Portland Amateur Hockey Association. By his senior year, he had been identified by NHL scouts as a solid pro prospect. "I don't regret coming to college," says Jones, "but I'll never know what might have happened if I'd continued hockey." He holds his hands spread before him, palms down, looking at them as if out of each finger a different future runs.
Until recently Jones lived, as most Lewis and Clark underclassmen do, in a dormitory. He had a corner room in a suite in Forest Hall; from the window could be seen Mt. Hood to the east and, farther north, Mt. Saint Helens. He shared the lodgings with three others, and the room was densely strewn with ski poles, stereo equipment, beer steins, forest-service road signs and a wandering Jew plant. Clearly, having once rejected specialization, Jones was resisting all further suggestions of it.
"I've been told that there will come a time when I'll have to make a choice," he says, with no resignation in his voice. "If so, then I'll choose. And if I fail at that one, then I'll choose again. But I'm not in school for that. I'm here to learn and to take life as it comes for a while."
Different sports, he'd said, call for different frames of mind: "A football game is the most intensely exciting for me. You build up all week for a single game, while in baseball or basketball you play all the time. Also football demands a clearer head. You're using called plays, each with an exact number of steps and moves, so it takes more discipline than basketball where the thing is flow and reacting to developments. Baseball is relaxing. You hit and field and have a good time."
Oddly, considering Jones' addiction to and adeptness at football, he didn't play the game until his senior year at Marshall High in Portland. "I did soccer and hockey until then." he says. He also was a member of the National Honor Society, was senior class president and, after baseball season was over his final year, entered the 100-meter dash in the city meet. "I got second in my heat at 11.2, but then..."—the memory produces a rueful wince—"...I got disqualified for two false starts in the finals. But I don't know if I would've gone to the state meet even if I'd qualified. My prom was the same weekend and I'd made promises."
As all of that implies, Jones is a social creature, happiest when he is living up to his half of a bargain. "The wide receiver is a clutch player in football," he says. "I like the pressure of being depended upon." In the third game of his sophomore season, he caught a decisive touchdown pass with five seconds to go. Yet his feeling on seeing the ball in the air, "knowing if it touched my hands I wasn't going to drop it," didn't stem from overweening confidence. "More from experience," he says. "In baseball I didn't know if I could play at this level. Confidence came from performance, from teammates, from coaching support." With that support he has hit 100 points better with men on base.
"Looking back, I can see how my sports have strengthened my willingness to take a chance," Jones adds. "I questioned my ability even in coming here. I would've been scared to death to walk on at Oregon or Oregon State."
Jones has now left the dorm and moved to an apartment he shares with teammates Jeff Erdman and Don Ulrich, and Jeff Namhie, a former football and baseball teammate who is now an apprentice fireman. As the junior resident of the apartment, Jones was assigned an old utility closet as his bedroom. It contains enough space for his twin bed and nothing else. "My dungeon," he calls it.
"The thing you have to understnd about Jones," says Erdman, a safety and outfielder, "is that he's not some alien put down here to embarrass the rest of us. He has his flaws."
"Like what?" says Jones in mock astonishment.
"Well, he's absolutely hopeless at picking up girls."
Jones sputters in dismay, but it's hard to tell if he disagrees with Erdman or is just agonizing over this vital failing. Finally he says, "That's an interesting thing to hear from someone who can never remember to keep his towel on in the coed training room."
Ulrich, a fireplug defensive back who also plays baseball, agrees with Jones that the Lewis and Clark ethos is good for growing multisport scholar-athletes, but adds that it's not perfect. "Getting good-looking women must be like getting big interior linemen," he says. "They take heavy recruiting."
"And then the school abuses them," puts in Namhie. "The women, anyway. It's called Freshmen 10—they all gain 10 pounds on the organic food service."
The talk floats on, of classes, of obstreperous professors, of frigid road trips to Spokane and Fairbanks, of how Jones has been able to do all he has done.
"He never had a car in high school," says Erdman, "so he never had to have a job to support a car, and he never had a steady girl friend. Do you know what I'm saying?"
"That there were only sports for him, so naturally he tried them all."
"Right. He was a kid. Kids don't want to specialize. When you're a kid everybody wants to do everything. Now, even the pro scouts want you to specialize. They want to see what you can do if you really concentrate." This is said with a pointed look at Jones.
"That's the breaks," says Jones. "Sure, I think about it. But when I do, I can't figure out what one I'd like to try."
"Still a kid," says Erdman, content.
Fred Wilson, mustachioed, blunt, humorous, country-articulate, has been the athletic director at Lewis and Clark for 24 years. Originally from Warrenton, Ore., at the mouth of the Columbia, where he graduated in the top six of his high school class—that being all there were in it—he is specific about the mission of his department. "The college funds this program because, like the others, it's part of the educational process," he says. Coaches at the school are faculty members. Coaches' salaries and capital expenditures aside, men's athletics—10 sports—are run on a modest budget of $83,000. "It's important to us that we avoid being in a position where we have to win for the money," says Wilson.
He's firm on that because he's convinced that there is a clearly recognizable point beyond which college sport departs from sound educational principles, a point when a program no longer serves its athletes, but the converse. "You lose control when you're told, or when you volunteer, to go raise your own money," he says. "The major-college A.D.s are being run by supporters, by alums and donors. When that happens, what's best educationally goes out the window. You see the recruiting and academic credit scandals; you see dropping sports so there is more money to go, ironically, to the moneymaking sports. Here, if we can't justify it educationally, we don't have it. Now that sounds altruistic, but it's practical as well."
Practical, Wilson contends, because in a period of economic retrenchment even the most opulent athletic programs are in jeopardy. "USC has problems despite its television revenues," he says. "The Ivy League does, too, even with its rich alums. So does Michigan, with a great salesman like Don Canham as athletic director. And the insidious thing is that the mistakes of the big schools are being repeated by the small. Our Northwest Conference schools, Willamette, Linfield, Pacific, Whitman, Whitworth, Pacific Lutheran and Lewis and Clark, are all private liberal-arts colleges with essentially the same athletic budgets, standards and rules, one being that you have to participate in nine sports to be a member of the conference."
Wilson slams in a desk drawer. "That should be our pride and joy. That should be sacred to us. Throughout our history, NWC schools seldom had national goals. The idea was to win the conference. The occasional time you went to a national playoff, that was gravy. But with the NAIA and AIAW getting some TV money, the national allure is so great that members of the conference are now developing programs aimed at national playoffs. Already some are saying. 'We've got to be more flexible, got to be allowed to go in fewer sports,' so they can build up one or two to national level. I can see it coming. We're going to lose them from the conference, or we're going to surrender the principles that have made us valuable. There won't be any more Dan Joneses when that happens. If you have to win to survive, coaches require athletes to go year round in one sport. There's no question in my mind that the disappearance of the three-sport athlete is a wholesale indictment of the educational ethics of American colleges."
Wilson explains that Lewis and Clark gives no athletic scholarships, yet every student, athlete or otherwise, accepted into the college can be promised enough financial aid, on a basis of need, to finish school. Tuition, fees and room and board now total $6,939. "Jones got no aid at all his first two years, and minimal aid this year only because he now has two brothers in college," says Wilson. "And he got $300 from the NAIA in the form of the Emil S. Liston Award for being the best junior scholar/basketball player/citizen in the country. But the point of not having athletic scholarships, aside from ensuring that no coach feels he has bought a kid's exclusive services, is that not only does a student-athlete have to want to come here, but his parents have to want it, too."
In listing the elements that have contributed to his success, Jones gives effusive credit to his family. This evening he takes a friend to his folks' home in southeast Portland for dinner. The house contains a dark brown dachshund, a strawberry-blonde cat and a grand piano, the last for the use of Jones' remarkably youthful-appearing mother, Dorothy. Hobart (always called Hobe) and Dorothy Jones' youngest, daughter Kristie, is a junior and 400-meter runner at Marshall High. Bart, a year older than Dan, is at Oregon State. Hobe is a chemicals salesman for the Wilbur-Ellis Company and was the 1951 Big 7 indoor 880 champion at Nebraska. Now, dressed in a red flannel shirt, he expresses curiosity about what might be in a letter the Seattle Mariners have sent Dan. "There have been some pro scouts by to weigh and measure and try to determine whether he has much of an IQ," Hobe says. "Might this be some small return on our investment?"
The envelope contains a flyer advertising season tickets. "Patience," says Dan, almost relieved, "is a virtue."
Dan's parents recall their dutiful travel to away games and scenes such as Dan getting hit so hard after a key catch against Southern Oregon that, when he regained his wits on the bench, he had to be told the tackier had been removed on a stretcher. "You broke his arm on your ribs," a teammate said.
For years, dating back to when Dan was in grade school, the elder Jones ran what amounted to a taxi and catering service for him. "On Tuesdays and Fridays during his junior year at Marshall he had basketball games," says Hobe. "On Wednesdays and Thursdays he had basketball practice after school, and then he'd eat a sandwich in the car on the way to hockey practice. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays he had hockey games."
Hobe is sensitive to the question of exactly where a parent's duty lies with such a demented son. "We watched for his coming apart or his grades starting to drop, but he seemed to just feed on all that activity. He never seemed to get tired. It was always us who got tired."
Dan Jones sits near the window in his Behavior and Organizations class. His toughest professor, Michael F. Flanagan, in a Pendleton shirt and wire-rimmed glasses, is making assertions about the future of the workplace in developed countries. "In no job do you determine your own fate," he says. "We work in groups. Because of advancing technology the emphasis on specialists will inevitably grow." At this, the generalist in the audience grins.
It is a two-hour class, with a break in the middle, for which Jones is grateful. Out in a breezeway he says, "One of the problems of my approach is I don't seem able to concentrate on one thing for a long time. I'm always switching."
"Is it the sports that have made you that way, or your nature?" he's asked.
"More me, I'm sure."
Later, Flanagan is asked to address the issue of specialization in higher education. "I'm a big believer in excellence," he says. "Excellence requires specialization. But I can find no fault with Dan Jones' classroom performance. I've never thought of him as an athlete, so it's never crossed my mind that he might be compromising his academics for one sport, let alone three."
Told of Flanagan's words, Jones' eyes widen. "Never thought of me as an athlete," he says. "Wow. I don't think he could pay me a higher compliment."
Dean Sempert, age 55, is Lewis and Clark's basketball coach and an associate professor of health and physical education. His office bookshelf, besides supporting a metric ton or two of basketball and kinesiology texts, contains The New Oxford Book of English Verse and H.G. Wells' The Outline of History. Sempert is a large, bearish man, and high among his instincts is protectiveness. Asked if he has ever had to discipline Jones, he says, "This is off the record. In a February game, he was coming back from an ankle injury, and he was getting tired. He wants to stay in all the time. I pulled him and he made a remark to a teammate. I chewed him out. Later he came to me and said, 'I was wrong. I'm sorry.' That's the worst thing that has ever happened between us."
"Why wouldn't you want that published?" asks his interviewer. "It seems complimentary to both of you."
Sempert thinks about it. "O.K.," he says. "Check with him. It's just that I have such idea) people to coach." His face seems to soften. "My colleagues at other places seem to have so many problems handling athletes. Maybe it's a sign of the times. But not here."
"Any idea why?"
"I can quote a column I read on the basketball gambling scandal at Boston College: 'If athletes are bought into school, they can continue to be bought.' "
Sempert is asked whether he ever experiences any little pangs of hope that Jones might specialize in basketball.
"No," he says quickly. "I'm just glad to have as much of him as I do. I know the problems most coaches have in sharing a talent like that, even in high schools. But doesn't it go back to consistency? If we're hoping to teach students to be unselfish, to understand what's best for individuals, are we not obliged at least to try to be that way as well?"
Terry Baker, now 40, is a successful attorney in Portland. He went to law school nights while playing for the Rams in the mid-'60s. He has never met Jones, but has an almost preternaturally accurate sense of Jones' feelings. "He must be what he is because he enjoys it," Baker said recently, and that got him remembering:
"Tommy Prothro was my football coach at Oregon State. I'd go into his office and say, 'Uh, I've got this class in the afternoons....' And he'd say, 'Fine! When can you be out?' and he'd reorganize the whole practice."
Oregon State played in the Liberty Bowl Baker's senior season. The field in Philadelphia was frozen. Baker, wearing basketball sneakers, went 99 yards from scrimmage for the only touchdown in the Beavers' 6-0 win. Later, bruised from being repeatedly brought down on the hard surface, he flew to Corvallis, went through one practice with the basketball team, flew with it to the University of Kentucky Invitational Tournament and was an all-tournament selection. "That was possible simply because toward the end of football, Prothro would let me miss a couple of practices a week to go practice basketball. Find a school where you can do that today."
Baker refutes the charge that a three-sport man is necessarily a jack of all trades, master of none. "Basketball helps football," he says. "In the open field, one-on-one, I'd just revert to basketball moves. The synergism makes you better at any of them, because you're basically playing athletics. They all support one another. It may be that people asking you to specialize are saying something like, 'You'll be a better thinker in sociology if you don't take any math courses.' "
What today's three- and four-sport athletes are hearing from college recruiters doesn't portend a return to the days Baker recalls. With a few exceptions, an SI survey of multisport high school athletes shows they have a clear understanding that specialization will be required in college.
Brian Howard, a senior at Rockville High in Rockville, Md., as a quarterback led his school to a 9-1 record and as a guard to the state basketball finals twice; as a shortstop-pitcher in baseball he was batting .455 at week's end without a single strikeout. In fact, he hasn't struck out since his sophomore year, and he has been an All-Metropolitan Washington selection in three sports. According to his baseball and football coach, Tom Manuel, "The larger colleges ruled out more than the one sport for which the scholarship was offered. Some smaller schools okayed basketball and baseball, but none would approve three sports."
One detects a certain arrogance in some colleges' views on participating in more than one sport. Kent Austin of Brentwood, Tenn., a quarterback, point guard and pitcher-infielder, is going to Ole Miss to play football. "They tell me if I can make a real contribution in baseball I'll be allowed to miss spring football training," he says. "You can't get off from spring football just to be a member of the team."
Some exceptional athletes have chosen colleges because the schools will allow at least two sports. Sean Salisbury of Orange Glen High School in Escondido, Calif., a 6'5" quarterback and forward and pitcher-outfielder, wants to play football and basketball at USC. "I'd like to do well. But I won't lose myself in football. I love basketball, too," he says. "USC understood that. A lot of schools didn't."
Firmness like that is rare. More pervasive among multisport men is the feeling that specialization is the way, and they are bound to follow.
Jones says that had he been exposed to the same imperatives he might well have given in, too. "I do wonder what would've happened if I'd gone to an NCAA school," he says. "Would I have been a failure? A star? Or a good contributor? I know it would've been in one sport only, with that urgency for specialization they have. I don't know how well I would've accepted that world, the downplaying of scholarship, the stockpiling of athletes. I guess it's fine if it meets the needs of everyone involved."
One wonders if it does; whether there might not be quite a few athletes with goals similar to Jones'. "I'd want to advance my education and be absorbed in my sport," he says, "and it's a lot more absorbing to do three than one. My approach might be comparable to what a decathlete does in compromising his 1,500-meter running to being a better shot-putter and getting a higher total score. You have to look at the whole of one's intent."
Jones' remarks call for reflection, and Lewis and Clark has the campus for that. The college, established in 1867, has occupied an estate on Portland's Palatine Hill since 1942, when it bought the mansion of M. Lloyd Frank, a department-store magnate who had built it in 1924 for $1,300,000. Ten years later he ran off with a salesgirl, a competitor's salesgirl at that, and his wife and family permitted the mansion to decline. In 1942 they let it go to the college trustees for $46,000. "Weasels, foxes, deer and skunks were common," reports a school history. "The great pileated woodpecker nested on campus in 1943."
Lewis and Clark seems a fitting sanctuary on many levels. The tradition-rich house and grounds, now restored, the calm, determinedly forested campus, the proportion-fixing constancy of Mt. Hood, the moral ferocity of granitic Fred Wilson and Dean Sempert, the architecture that is no more intimidating or inhumane than a clearing in the woods: all combine to form a reassuring sense of continuing values, the essence of liberal education.
Such is one's feeling while walking on any of hundreds of American college campuses. And yet they have changed. Wilson is right; our schools have begun to compete too fanatically. The apt metaphor is biological. Whether sheep or sharks, all species remain at their peak only so long as their success is kept within limits. If they compete too poorly, they're dead. But if they compete too well, they're dead, too.
Yet, unlike lemmings, we are said to be able, through the social contract, to confront our excesses, perceive their ultimate dangers and halt them before they wreck us. This has yet to be demonstrated in areas such as disarmament. Indeed, the nation's college presidents and athletic directors have shown themselves incapable of coming together and agreeing on reasonable limits to the costs of their sporting arsenals. Thus, the silken thread that binds their scholar-athletes often appears suspiciously exploitive.
Jones is important for the wonderful life he has yet to lead, and for his demonstration of how profoundly sport in perspective can contribute to the forming of a good man. Yet one is ultimately saddened by exposure to his excellence and balance and to that of the teachers around him. Saddened not for him or for them, but for the thousands of scholar-athletes who can no longer find surroundings that will ever let them follow his jubilant path.