LYNDON CENTER — Lyndon Institute prides itself on its flexibility. Students can choose many paths to graduation — from high-end academics to online learning, from vocational career-preparation programs in fields as diverse as agriculture and graphic design to dual-enrollment programs like the Lyndon Learning Collaborative in which students can complete their first year of college during their senior year. And for the last seven years, LI has adopted another flexible approach: allowing its athletes to compete in multiple sports during a season.
“We don’t just allow it, we encourage it,” says Athletic Director Eric Berry. “After all, why would you ever want to limit anyone’s desire to succeed? This is just one more way for a student to reach their potential.”
Assistant Athletic Director Robert Heath, a long-time staff member and LI alum, helped in the original push to get more athletes involved in different sports. “As a track coach, I felt this concept fit very naturally with the ‘track mentality,’ where athletes already compete in multiple events,” he says.
Over the years, Lyndon has added additional sports to each of its seasons. It wasn’t too many years ago that in the fall boys could only choose between football or cross-country running, girls between cross-country running or field hockey. Now, both boys and girls can also choose soccer, volleyball or golf. Indoor track is an additional option in winter to basketball and skiing. Lacrosse and ultimate Frisbee clubs now coexist with the traditional track and field, softball and baseball teams in the spring. However, in a time when demographic shifts have led to declining enrollment, fielding complete teams can sometimes be a challenge. COVID has put an additional strain on the number of athletes turning out this fall, especially in its impact on the school’s dorm student population, many of whom helped fill team rosters.
In the midst of this challenge, LI’s philosophy of encouraging students to become dual-sport athletes has been a boon. And this fall, a handful of athletes have stepped up in a show of community spirit and to honor the bonds of friendship. In the process, they’re discovering both the joys and challenges of being a dual-sport athlete.
Senior Aidan Bogie has been playing soccer since sixth grade and is a captain on Coach Dick McCarthy’s varsity team. Last year, he decided to also join the cross-country team, and when this fall rolled around, there was no question about racing again.
“My interest in running started my freshman year when I joined the track team. I liked the people, and I liked the sport, so I figured why not also run cross country?” For Bogie, the individualized nature of running makes it relatively easy to mesh with his soccer schedule. “It’s kind of up to me to figure out how to work in the cross country. I make it to as many meets as I can and am able to do a lot of the training on my own.”
For Bogie, joining cross country has done nothing but help his soccer game primary sport. “My endurance level during a soccer game is much better since I started running.” In fact, in his last competition, Bogie broke LI’s record, completing the 5K race with a time of 17:24.
Senior Nick Matteis is a fellow LI varsity soccer player and third-year captain who also decided to pick up another team this year. Having participated in a fall hockey league through ninth, 10th and 11th grade in addition to soccer, Matteis is no stranger to being a dual-sport athlete, but this year has been a bit different.
“I went to one of the first boys’ volleyball games this year to support a few of my buddies. Because the team is so small, they only had five guys on the court. They won the match, but since they were missing six players it still counted as a loss. So I decided — what the heck, I’ll join the team. I didn’t want their senior year in volleyball to be ruined because they were missing one player.”
Having never played much volleyball before, Matteis wasn’t sure how it would go. “I figured, even if I wasn’t good, at least their games will count.” To his surprise, it worked out better than he thought. “My soccer experience has definitely helped make me better at volleyball.” As the team’s goalie, many of his skills and quick reflexes directly transfer onto the volleyball court. “Plus, I’m good at using my feet, which I was surprised to learn you can use in a volleyball game!”
Besides helping out his friends, Matteis enjoys playing volleyball for another reason. “It’s just fun,” he says. “Because it’s so new, there are no major expectations, no pressure, so I can just go out there and have a good time.”
This aspect of being a dual-sport athlete can’t be overlooked. “In fact,” Director Berry explained, “many of our dual-sport athletes often have even more success in their ‘second’ sport than their primary one. Typically, they’re excellent athletes all around and just have natural talent, but there’s something to be said for being relaxed when it comes time to perform.”
It’s not all fun and games, though. There’s a time commitment — dual sports, in Matteis’s case, means dual practices. And dual games. (“Typically four out of five days during the week,” he explained.)
One of Matteis’s friends, senior Max McClure, is returning the favor, having recently joined the soccer team as a forward in addition to being a key member of the volleyball team. “I walked into Coach McCarthy’s room during a soccer meeting and noticed there was a missing spot in their roster. My friends helped me out by joining the volleyball team, so I wanted to return the favor.”
“It’s been a bit tiring,” he joked. “You don’t do a lot of running in volleyball, and I was pretty much thrown into the fire. But it’s been fun helping out.”
For Coach McCarthy, it’s been gratifying to see his players expand their horizons. “I’m tremendously enthusiastic about it,” he says. “Our team’s motto is ‘As one.’ That’s how we do things — we play for each other. And we also look beyond ourselves. That’s what these guys are doing.”
Upon joining, McClure — who played soccer all through childhood — made an immediate impact, boosting the team with a goal in his very first game.
“That was fun to see,” McCarthy said, joking, “I gave goalie Nick Matteis a figurative assist on the goal since he brought Max over to the team.”
Whether it’s to help a friend, serve the greater LI community, or pursue a personal passion, being a dual-sport athlete is part of the larger ethos that Berry has been cultivating school-wide since taking on the role of athletic director, one embodied in the refrain he introduced to the student body on assuming the role of athletic director, a refrain one hears all around the school, from assemblies to the playing fields: “Go, Vikes!”
David Stahler Jr. graduated from Lyndon Institute in 1990 and has been a member its English department since 1997. He received his bachelor of arts in English from Middlebury College in 1994 and went on to earn a Masters in Liberal Studies from Dartmouth College in 2001 with a concentration in literary studies and creative writing. He is the author of seven published novels.