The era of high school athletes becoming one sports specialist, may be true for larger schools.

By Al Zipsie

However, in the NUIC with small school enrollments and tight communities, that trend is bucked. Many in the NUIC play in three sports. This story features the NUIC multi sports athlete of the year for both the boys and girls. The boys winner is Hayden Fox of Stockton and the girls top spot goes to Makenzie Fink of Eastland. Both are seniors and play sports in all three seasons. Both will be taking their talents to the next level in college. Fox said he plans on baseball and Fink will be playing Division l volleyball for Northwestern.

"I'm very excited to play volleyball at the next level," said Fink. "I look forward to meeting new people, playing new opponents and raising my game to the next level. "I consider the NUIC Conference as one of the best in the State. I feel honored to represent our area. I also give credit to my coaches and teammates for pushing me at practice to be the best player I can be."

"I think so many athletes (in the NUIC) play multi sports because it is what athletes in small schools do," said Fox. "We all love competing and representing our school. "I love playing sports for the Stockton Community. "I plan on playing baseball, at either UW-Oshkosh or St. Thomas."

"Small schools need three sport athletes due to the small enrollments," said Fink's basketball coach Nicole Brinker, who was a three sports star herself in volleyball, basketball and softball at Eastland. She went on to play three sports at Highland College and then basketball and volleyball at Illinois-Springfield. "Playing multi sports creates a well rounded athlete. They are able to play different roles on different teams and interact with different people. It also allows muscles to not be overworked by the same sport."

Some thought Fox might get the itch to continue playing football, after a unbeaten regular season Stockton was upset in the opening round of the playoffs. That might have given Fox a bad taste, Both his older brothers Jordan and Thomas Fox play football for Central College (Iowa). Growing up with two athletic older brothers gave Fox a chance to compete with them in all sports which only made him better. Fox, was the NUIC baseball MVP last year and is having another great season as a pitcher and hitter and likely will repeat. He was also the NUIC Upstate MVP in football. Fox, was All-Conference as a quarterback (throwing for 1,300 yards and 20 touchdowns and rushing for 551 yards and 12 TD's). He was also an All-Conference punter. Fox led Stockton to an unbeaten regular season before they finished 9-1 before being upset in the opening round of the playoffs. Fox is hitting a lofty .452 this spring for Stockton/Warren and is 5-0 as a pitcher with a stingy 0.77 ERA. And even though it's basketball is not his favorite sport, he was All-Conference.

"For me I know basketball is a sport I would not play if not for my teammates and my coach," Fox said. "Playing basketball for me was to give back to coach (John) Hammann who has coached me in every sport, "My teammates I play every sport with."

It is obvious where Hayden got his sports blood lines. With his two brothers paving the way and his younger sister Ellen now playing sports at Stockton. His father Brad, played quarterback at Stockton for legendary coach John O'Boyle. He later became an assistant coach under O'Boyle and then head coach when O'Boyle retired. Hayden's mother Colleen Fox, was a standout athlete playing collegiately at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minn and is Stockton's volleyball coach.

To make our multiple sports list an athlete must play at least two sports, most played three. The exceptions are one sport standouts in Ashley Beyers a teammate of Fink's at Eastland who has signed to play volleyball at Gannon University. And Trey Thomas of River Ridge All-Conference in basketball.

Fox. Stockton. Stockton. Senior. Football/Basketball/Baseball. "It's an honor to be recognized as one of the top NUIC multi sports athletes," said Fox.

Andrew Wenger. Dakota. Senior. Football/Wrestling/Baseball. State wrestling runner-up at 170 lbs. All state linebacker in football and two way All-Conference as a running back and linebacker.

Rahveon Valentine. Lena-Winslow. Junior. Football/Wrestling/Track. NUIC track MVP as a sophomore and will be going for state medals in the sprints at State.  Third place at State in wrestling at 170. All Conference running back.

Brighton Haverland. Eastland. Senior. Football/Basketball/Baseball. NUIC Northwest football MVP. All Conference in a rare combination of quarterback and defensive end. All-Conference in basketball and standout pitcher/third baseman in baseball.

AJ Christensen. Forreston. Junior. Football/Track. All Conference running back and two way starter on State football champions. Going for state medals in hurdle events and sprint relay this spring in track.

Austin Guy. Orangeville. Junior. Football/Basketball/Baseball. All-Conference in football at defensive back and Honorable Mention at quarterback. All-Conference and All-State Honorable Mention in basketball. Baseball pitcher/shortstop.

Maverick McPeek. Dakota. Junior. Football/Wrestling. Third in wrestling at State 220 lbs. All State Honorable Mention and All-Conference offensive lineman and defensive line All-Conference Honorable Mention

Ian Kuehl. Lena-Winslow. Sophomore. Football/Wrestling/Baseball. Third in State in wrestling at 285. All Conference in football as offensive lineman.

Payton Calow. Warren. Senior. Football/Basketball/Baseball. All-Conference Honorable Mention in football as a quarterback and basketball. Baseball pitcher.

Andrew Kaiser. Warren. Senior. Football/Basketball/Baseball. All Conference in football as receiver and defensive back. All Conference in basketball.

Honorable Mention. Jordan Hochstatter. Amboy. Senior. Football/All Conference basketball and baseball pitcher. Skylar Fischer. Pearl City. Senior. Football/Basketball. All Conference in football (E/PC) and basketball (Pearl City).

Best multi sports team. Freeport Aquin. Boys. The reason Aquin went to the State quarterfinals in football, the Sectional final in basketball. After winning Sectional in baseball last year hope to place at State this spring. A small school like Aquin the only formula for success in all sports is for the better athletes to compete in all sports. Three sport standouts Football/Basketball/Baseball include juniors Zac Cummings ( also a golfer as a sophomore), Jonah Diemer, Bryce Carlson and Cole Stykel. Junior Wes Luedeking and seniors Tim Harrington and Patrick Gustafson in two sports.

Fink. Eastland. Senior. Volleyball/Basketball/Softball. A standout in all sports with volleyball her go to sport. The 6 foot 1 Fink was All-State in volleyball. She has a record for most kills in a championship match (as a junior). She was on the varsity all four years and had a 123-9-2 career record.leading Eastland to a state champion as a junior and runner-up as a senior. Also All-Conference in basketball and solid pitcher/hitter in softball.

"Makenize is a coaches dream, an all around great kid with a quick wit, she is a leader on and off the court," praised Brinker. "Kenzie" brings a mental toughness, as the basketball team headed to the post season (going all the way to the Sectional finals) the team changed. "They became incredibly focused and efficient and she was the leader of this. She was incredibly sick and was still able to put together a stellar performance in big games. She has no time for drama, she just wants to do whatever it takes to win."She tries to connect with the younger girls and she expects great things from herself and teammates. "With all the media attention she is still the first to take responsibility for a less then perfect showing. She shows up at every opportunity to get better whether it's an open gym or in the weight room."

Katie Furlong. Galena. Senior. Volleyball/Basketball. All State third team (1 and 2A combined) and All-State first team in basketball. For her career she had over 1,000 points and rebounds. She led Galena to a 29-2 record and the Super Sectional the last two years in a row. She has said she plans on playing volleyball in college.

Emily Offenheiser. Stockton. Junior. Volleyball/Basketball/Track. All-Conference in volleyball and basketball. Qualified for state in track the last two years and as a junior this spring hopes for medals in both the shot put and discus.

Karlee Doege and Delaney Wilhelm. Amboy. Seniors. Volleyball/Basketball/Softball. The pair formed a solid one two punch in all three sports. Doege is an all-stater in softball as a pitcher and Wilhelm scored over 1,000 points in her basketball career in a sport she plans on playing in college.

The dynamic duo of Ashton/Franklin Center's Jaynee Prestegaard sophomore and junior Madeline Prestegaard. Volleyball/Basketball/Softball. The sister act led Ashton/Franklin Center to a 27-3 record. Both were All-Conference with Jaynee, second team AP All State and Madeline Honorable Mention. Both also solid in volleyball and softball.

Tyra Clark.Pearl City. Pearl City. Junior. Volleyball/Basketball/Softball. She was part of Pearl City's first ever Sectional title last year in softball. She had a memorable home run blast caught on video that sailed over the fence knocking two fans out of their chairs. Standout in all three sports.

Rebecca Waite. Milledgeville. Junior. Volleyball/Basketball/Track. Three sport star. Last year was second in state in the 100 meters and fourth in the 200 and qualified in the long jump. She returns this spring looking for the podium.

Carmen DeVries. Lena-Winslow. Junior. Volleyball/Track. Last year third in the 400 meters and sixth in the long jump. Looking to medal in four different events this spring.

Kelsey Bollon. Orangeville. Senior. Volleyball/Basketball/Softball. All state in softball one of the best hitters in the state this season.

Becky Bauldauff. Lena-Winslow. Senior. Volleyball/Basketball/Softball. Ace pitcher in softball.

Honorable Mention. Abby Ponder. Pecatonica. Senior. Basketball/Softball. All Conference in basketball and will play both basketball and softball at Rock Valley College. Tia Clark. Pearl City. Sophomore. Volleyball/Basketball/Softball. Ellie Packer. Dakota. Junior. Volleyball/Basketball/Track.