Column: Three-sport athletes defy the specialization trend

Oaks Christian's Colby Parkinson, left, and St. Bonaventure's Darius Vines are three-sport athletes

Oaks Christian’s Colby Parkinson, left, and St. Bonaventure’s Darius Vines are three-sport athletes

(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

Darius Vines of Ventura St. Bonaventure and Colby Parkinson of Westlake Village Oaks Christian are anomalies in a youth sports world gone mad.

They are teenagers stubbornly refusing to join the crowd in the era of specialization. They are three-sport athletes willing to ignore the skeptics who say the failure to focus year-round on a single sport will prevent them from fulfilling their potential.

“I’ve been playing baseball since I was a little kid,” Parkinson said. “I took up basketball in high school and have been playing football. I see no need to stop. I love all three sports.”

Vines started playing baseball at 3, basketball at 5, then flag football at 6.


“It’s just fun,” he said. “It helps me with all sports.”

Vines, a senior quarterback, and Parkinson, a 6-foot-7 junior tight end, begin the Southern Section Pac-5 football playoffs Friday night. Vines’ St. Bonaventure team faces Orange Lutheran at Ventura College. Parkinson’s Oaks Christian team hosts Long Beach Jordan. Whenever the season ends, each will move on to basketball.

“It’s his decision,” Parkinson’s father, Mike, said of his son’s multiple-sport participation. “My challenge to him is academics. As long as he keeps his academics up, he can make that decision.”

Parkinson has college football scholarship offers from UCLA, USC, Tennessee, Georgia, Michigan, Washington and others. He also starts for the basketball team and probably will play varsity baseball in the spring.


Right after basketball season ends, he always greets the baseball coach with a smile and the question, “Where do you need me?”

“I can play infield, first, third, center field, pitch,” he says.

Playing him as catcher, though, could be a problem — for the umpire.

“When I was squatting, I was taller than the umpire,” he said of his experience at the position as a 14-year-old.


Vines has football scholarship offers from Eastern Washington, Montana State and Northern Colorado. He has a baseball offer from Pacific. He was all-league last season in football, basketball and baseball. He’s 6-1, 180 pounds and plays point guard in basketball and shortstop in baseball. This season, he has passed for 2,053 yards and 22 touchdowns, rushed for 653 yards and five touchdowns, and made three interceptions on defense.

There are times each has had to scramble to play multiple games during the summer.

Parkinson had one Saturday when he played in a seven-on-seven passing competition in the morning, rushed back to play in a baseball game in the afternoon, then was in two basketball games in the evening. Vines had a day when he played in a passing tournament, then went to a baseball showcase.

Critical to their success are cooperative coaches who are sincere in working out schedules during the off-season, and making sure being away from practices doesn’t compromise their spot on the team. At St. Bonaventure, the basketball and baseball coaches are also on the chain crew at football games, always keeping their eyes on Vines.


“After a few quarterback runs, they might get a little nervous,” Seraphs Coach Adam Guerra said.

In a sign that opinions may be changing, Parkinson’s father said college recruiters have been telling him they like recruits who play multiple sports.

“There’s a trade-off,” he said. “You can’t have expectations you’re going to get a scholarship in all three sports. If he was serious about getting a scholarship in baseball, he’d have to do it year-round, but he loves all three.”

Vines and Parkinson have plenty of role models to follow, such as Giancarlo Stanton of the Miami Marlins, who was a football-basketball-baseball standout at Sherman Oaks Notre Dame.


For now, it’s full speed ahead.

“I was thinking about not playing basketball this year, but I just decided I’d miss it too much,” Vines said.

Athletes playing sports to have fun. What a great concept.


Twitter: @LATSondheimer