Just when you thought Johnny Three-sport was dead, along came Allen Freemon, who is surviving--and thriving--at St. Francis High.
During each of the past four years, Freemon has done what an increasing number of high school athletes have found almost impossible to do--compete in three different sports. Before the 1988-89 school year ends, the senior will likely play four sports and he narrowly missed playing five.
He's even found time to crack a book now and again. His grade-point average (2.8) has suffered because of the athletic distractions. Still, time and studies included, the most difficult aspect of participating in cross-country, basketball, golf and track is talking the coaches into allowing it. In these times of specialization and overlapping seasons, coaches--even at the high school level--would prefer not to share athletes.
Freemon, however, is an anomaly.
Upon arriving at St. Francis in 1985, Freemon planned on playing basketball, maybe golf, but cross-country Coach Mark Mitchell saw him run and quickly snagged him for his team. Initially, Freemon was less than enthusiastic. "The first day, they made us run five miles straight up a hill," he said. "Everyone was getting sick, throwing up. I thought, 'That's it for cross-country.' You've got to be some kind of fool."
As it was, Freemon became the first St. Francis freshman to make the varsity cross-country team. His junior year, he won eight of 12 races for the Golden Knights. This season, he took eight of 11 races. Freemon now says he has logged a "foolish" 6,000 miles for St. Francis in practices and meets. "I guess it became addictive," he said.
So habit forming, in fact, he also turned to track, where his quick fix came in the form of four events--the 800 meters, the mile, the two-mile and the one-mile relay.
Jammed in between the annual cross-country and track binges were Freemon's favorite sports--basketball and golf. This past season, he led the basketball team in scoring (20.3-point average), three-point shooting and averaged 7.3 rebounds a game. The 6-foot-2 forward ranked fifth in the Southern Section in three-point shooting percentage, making 83 of 211 attempts, and he was an All-Del Rey League selection. He scored in double figures in all 24 games.
Examination of Freemon's senior season reveals not only the mental and physical stamina required to switch from sport to sport, but also an unusual level of consistency as he did so. Freemon's schedule has been rigorous indeed. After school ended in May 1988, he played summer league basketball with St. Francis teammates in June and July.
Midway through July, he began daily cross-country workouts, running 12 miles and 15 quarter-mile sprints on alternating days. The cross-country season began in September and ended Nov. 14. He joined the basketball team a week late--on Nov. 17. While the team had been practicing together since the beginning of school under the guise of a physical education class, Freemon hadn't touched a ball.
"It takes about a month to get your quickness and touch back," he said.
Cross-country knocked his shooting touch so out of whack, he hit nine three-point shots and scored 37 points in the season-opening loss at Beverly Hills. To make up for lost time, Freemon said he took 500 shots a day during team and personal practice sessions. In a game against Alemany, the forward hit five three-point shots in the first half, enabling the Golden Knights to take a 49-19 lead. Against Crescenta Valley, he made six three-point shots.
"In some ways, running cross-country helped him," said John Jordan, St. Francis basketball coach. "So many of his points came off the transition. I rarely saw him fatigued. In the fourth quarter, he'd still be going all out. That helped him."
Nonetheless, Jordan wanted his standout shooter to drop cross-country to concentrate on basketball. "He told me running was hurting my basketball," Freemon said. "None of the coaches ever really pressured me to quit other sports, but they advised me to concentrate on just one--and the sport they wanted me to stay with was always the one they happened to be coaching."
Four days after the basketball season ended in mid-February, Freemon played in a golf tournament and turned in St. Francis' best nine-hole score, a two-over par 38 at L. A. Royal Vista. "To me it's unbelievable," said golf Coach Mike Cannon. "He hadn't touched a club in who knows how long and he golfs like that."
Even though St. Francis' spring golf schedule conflicts with its track season, Freemon says he will attempt to step in and run "when the track team needs me." But, after almost four years of juggling his sports, Freemon may now be turned away by a coach unwilling to work with the athlete's revolving schedule. Track Coach Duane Harris said his practices began a month ago and he has yet to hear from Freemon.
"I don't know about this season," Harris said. "It comes down to the team aspect. It's not fair for him to replace a kid who's been practicing with us all the time. And if there's a conflict between golf and track, which meet will he miss?"
For his part, Freemon has a solution: "I would want to play or run for the team that needed me the most."
Freemon was turned down by a coach once before. Halfway through the football season, the senior wrote a letter to football Coach Terry Terrazone, whose team was struggling with a 1-3 record. In effect, Freemon volunteered for football duty--he would play quarterback--pending the coach's approval.
It never came. Freemon insisted on continuing with cross-country in addition to football and Terrazone found that arrangement unacceptable. Johnny Five-sport was miffed by the reaction, finally dismissing it as "football mentality." Harris, an assistant football coach, said Freemon would have missed too much practice while off running the hills.
Harris called Freemon's other sports "a distraction problem."
"Being so talented, being so good at everything puts him into a bit of a problem," Harris said. "It's always been tough for him to decide which sports to do."
So he did all of them.
But his diluting sports agenda may have, his coaches say, cost him concrete rewards, such as a major-college scholarship. Cannon says Freemon (who has a 4-handicap) could easily have been a scratch golfer and landed a free ride at a Division I school had he practiced year-round. Harris says the same is true for track and cross-country.
Two months before his high school graduation, Freemon basically answers the could-have-beens with a "So what?"
He'll probably attend a Division II school in California and try to play--what else?--three sports. Looking back, he claims his only regret in high school is not playing football and cementing his place at St. Francis as the school's Johnny Five-sport.
"A lot of times I asked myself, 'What the hell am I doing this for?' " he said. "Everyone kept telling me to focus on one sport. But I was having fun. I was just being a kid. There's nothing wrong with that. I wanted to get my money's worth while I was young."