Ask a serious high school athlete about his summer vacation, and the response probably won't include anything about a trip to the beach. For players looking to win a starting position on the varsity or a college scholarship, the summer months are anything but a vacation.
"There were a couple of weeks there when I didn't have a day off," Oakton, Va., two-sport athlete Danny Teschner said.
Teschner, a rising senior quarterback, competed in nearly 40 passing-only games last month as he helped the Cougars win the Colonial Forge and the Northern Region (Va.) league titles. And when he wasn't on the football field, he was playing right field for Vienna Post 180. Teschner expects to play in 20-25 American Legion games.
He's not alone. Some athletes train during the summer just as often as, or in some cases more than, the regular season. Spending 30 to 40 hours a week on a basketball court, from June to August, and playing in three leagues might sound extreme, but it's not that uncommon. Neither is traveling across the country every weekend to play for an elite softball team.
For athletes trying to establish themselves on their high school teams, summer competition can be their chance to impress a coach and win a starting position. For juniors and seniors, performing well -- whether at a baseball tournament or at a basketball all-star camp --can be the ticket to a college scholarship.
"All sports have gone to year-round, 12-month-long seasons," Fairfax, Va., Athletic Director Pat Laing said. "With college scholarships at stake, the pressure on kids to specialize is greater than ever."
The Centreville, Va., boys' basketball team competes in three varsity summer leagues -- one at Fairfax High, the Metro South League at various Prince William County schools and another at St. Stephen's/St. Agnes. Players often compete in two games in different gyms on the same night. Recently, the Wildcats played South Lakes at Fairfax at 7 p.m. and during halftime of that game, five players quietly exited the gym, got into their cars and drove to St. Stephen's in Alexandria, where they began a second game at 8:45. Once the first game ended, the players who stayed behind drove to St. Stephen's for the second half of the second game.
Centreville Coach Mark Mackmin opens the weight room at 8 a.m. from Monday to Thursday and encourages all of his players to attend. He also asks them to run in their spare time to build their endurance.
"Kids these days need to play as much as possible," Mackmin said. "They don't play on the outdoor courts the way I used to. Parents seem to endorse the summer leagues, and support their kids playing in them."
The demands on girls' basketball players are no different. Gar-Field (Dale City, Va.) guard Shannon Massie, 15, is spending her summer vacation juggling playing in two leagues plus practicing and playing in tournaments with her AAU team.
"Right now, I'm totally in love with basketball," Massie said. "Everybody wants to hang out with their friends, but this is what I want to do in college. And I know what it takes to get there. I can't get enough basketball."
By the end of the summer, Magruder (Rockville, Md.) catcher Laura Hendrickson will play more than 70 softball games and travel to seven states and Canada. Before the summer season, she drove seven hours round trip to New Jersey with her parents on five consecutive Sundays to practice with the elite Beach Girls Gold travel team. Her family estimates that their summer travel expenses and tournament entry fees at $5,000.
"The way we approached this with Laura was by saying, 'If you didn't do this, would you look back and wonder, what if?' " her father, Ed Hendrickson, said. "And if it would kill you not to play at this level, then you need to do it. The bottom line is she's playing great ball on a great team and having a great time."
Laura Hendrickson, 16, wants to be rewarded with a college scholarship, preferably at Penn State. The college softball recruiting period started on July 1, and Hendrickson's family has been exchanging e-mails with coaches. At every tournament the Beach Girls have played, she's been able to spot college coaches in the stands.
By spending the summer with the Beach Girls, Ed Hendrickson said his daughter can get the chance to play the equivalent of an entire high school career in a little more than two months. She has played in tournaments in Tennessee, Ohio, Colorado, Quebec and New Jersey, and still has New York and North Carolina along with Marietta, Ga.
"I don't think burning out can happen," Hendrickson said. "I love it too much."
Ask Dunbar football coach Craig Jefferies why working hard in the summer is important and he'll tell you about the three consecutive DCIAA titles his teams have won. Then he will mention junior defensive back Luke Caine.
Through weight training, agility drills and passing league games last summer, Caine, who orally committed to Syracuse, went from project to prospect. He led the Crimson Tide with four interceptions and now has the opportunity to play football on the Big East stage.
"If you are dedicated to what you are doing, then you go to (Dunbar) every day to lift weights," said Caine, who also works as a counselor at a sports summer camp at Dunbar, in Washington, D.C. "If you feel that by going up there that you are giving up your summer vacation, then you shouldn't be playing football."
Jefferies opens the doors to the weight room at 3 p.m. sharp. Thirty minutes later, the room is filled with the sound of barbells clanking. These voluntary sessions are crucial for players wanting to crack the starting lineup.
"It definitely gives you a leg up," said Jefferies, who has sent 13 players to Division I-A or I-AA football programs the past two years. "Coaches don't have the luxury of developing players on an individual basis once the season starts. But in the summer, we have the time to give players personal attention."
Even more importantly, the constant activity beats the alternative.
"It wasn't that bad," Teschner said. "I'm used to playing sports all year round. I'd rather be out there playing football or baseball than just sitting around my house being bored."
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