Starting safety on the football team.
Starting point guard on the basketball team.
Starting shortstop on the baseball team.
Scott County sophomore Cooper Robb is an outlier. Given the current youth sports climate obsessed with building athletes through year-round commitment to a single sport, he fits in more with the 1970s than the 2010s. That he’s doing what he’s doing at the state’s largest high school by enrollment makes it all the more fascinating.
Robb started playing all three sports when he was about 5 or 6 years old. His parents thought he’d be a baseball player based on how well and accurately he threw a ball at 3 or 4. Despite that head start, Robb said he’s never really preferred one sport over the others.
“When I was younger, whichever one I was playing at the time was the one I liked the best,” Robb said after a baseball game in April. “Once another one came back around, that’s the one I loved playing. It’s stayed the same way and hopefully it will.”
Coaches get it
Robb’s coaches understand his desire to play other sports. Baseball coach Scott Willard loves that Robb and several other football players — Trey Binder, Bryce Fryman and Sam Sutton — choose to spend their offseason with a bat in hand.
“Sometimes we don’t get ’em until later in the year,” said Willard, who noted Robb didn’t join the baseball team until a few weeks into the season because of Scott County’s deep run in the 11th Region basketball tournament. “ ... I tell ’em all the time, go try and win the basketball regional tournament, go to the state tournament and when baseball comes you’ll get an opportunity to play. I never penalize a kid for trying to play two sports or three sports.”
He’s not the three-hole hitter in baseball. He’s not the leading scorer on the basketball team. What he’s doing is he’s figuring out ‘This is my role, this is how I can contribute.’
Jim McKee, Scott County football coach
Billy Hicks, the state’s all-time winningest boys’ basketball coach, isn’t outright against specialization but thinks it’s a decision that should be left up to kids and their families, not coaches. He would never tell a kid not to play another sport if he or she wanted to.
“And I never will,” he said.
Hicks compared Robb to Tony Pietrowski, who was runner-up to Elton Scott for the 1994 Mr. Basketball title.
“Sometimes, if you coach long enough, you get players that sort of repeat themselves,” Hicks said. “ ... He’s so quiet but he’s deadly.”
This past season, Robb averaged 11.7 points and 5.6 rebounds — stats that don’t blow your mind but are typical of a kid whose best skill might be finding a niche and filling it.
Football coach Jim McKee said in his 19 years at Scott County, Robb is the first player he remembers starting in all of the “big three” sports.
“He’s not the three-hole hitter in baseball. He’s not the leading scorer on the basketball team,” McKee said. “What he’s doing is he’s figuring out ‘this is my role, this is how I can contribute.’
“We’ve had kids that’ll be really good football players and they’ll go out for basketball or wrestling or whatever in the winter, and if they’re not a starter they’re like, ‘Eh, I ain’t doing this if I can’t start.’ He’s found a role in everything. He should be a model for others.”
‘I like ’em all’
In 2016, parents are encouraged to have their kids — beginning at an elementary-school age — participate in offseason travel teams to gain an edge, rather than playing other scholastic sports. This is often done with the intent to improve their chances at a college scholarship, in spite of the fact that less than 7 percent of high school athletes will be offered even a partial scholarship to play at any level in college. Specialization has been linked to an increase in injuries related to overuse, burnout and social isolation.
McKee hates the specialization trend in youth sports. His entire career he’s believed that coaches who encourage such commitment are doing nothing but servicing themselves.
As a father, McKee confesses he probably thinks his own kids are “a little bit better” athletes than they actually are. That’s a trapthat can lead to parents spending large amounts of money on travel teams, prospect camps and other avenues designed to “showcase” kids.
“How much money is made at the expense of kids attending that stuff? It’s insane,” McKee said.
To be clear, McKee doesn’t hold participation in such things against his players. After all, Robb was a late arrival to football practice last August because of his involvement with a travel baseball club.
“If he was laying on the beach ’til August 10 and then showed up expecting to start the next game, it might be a little different,” McKee said.
Robb will extend his multi-sport interests this summer by playing for travel baseball and basketball teams. He hopes to continue all three sports through his senior year of high school, silently mulling a decision on which one he’ll play in college.
“I just can’t give up a certain sport,” Robb said. “I like ’em all.”
Quiet but deadly, on more fields than one.