Senior Ryan Palmer hunches over as he leans all of his weight forward onto his hands, grasping the handles of the silver treadmill, as sweat seeps through his shirt. He sighs after regressing from a hard jog of 174 steps per minute to a moderate walk. He places emphasis on each step, stretching his calves and hamstrings. He drops the pace of the treadmill and his silver and red sneakers come to a halt on the black rubber belt.
He wipes his reddened face with a white towel, cleans the monitor and handles of the treadmill, and moves on to the weight machines. He loads 100 pounds on the chest-press machine and sits on the leather seat, staring blankly at the wall in front of him, catching his breath before the strength portion of his workout.
Palmer swims or trains at least five days a week, spending an hour to an hour and a half working on his strength and cardio endurance.
Palmer is training to be in top shape for the new swim season.
“I don’t want to let my team down,” said Palmer. “I like pushing myself, seeing how far I can go.”
However, swimming is not Palmer’s only sport. He was a member of the varsity golf team and, up until this year, he played basketball. He also plans on representing the varsity track team as a shot put and discus specialist in the spring. Palmer juggles the three sports all year around, just as he has done for the past three years of his high school career. With this commitment to Huntley athletics, he is on track to earn a 12-Season Award at the end of this year.
The 12-Season Award is given to dedicated student-athletes who participate in a school sport every single season of their four years at Huntley.
“I like mixing it up. I like doing different sports,” said Palmer. “My older sister, Jessica, did it in ’06 and I wanted to follow in her footsteps.”
When Palmer saw her name on the wooden plaque in the hallway by the East Gym, he was inspired to put his name up there as well.
“I want to leave a legacy at Huntley High School,” said Palmer.
Palmer’s not the only Huntley athlete who strives to receive the award in May. Duke Larkin, football player, wrestler, and sprinter, is also completing his twelfth season this spring. They are the only two athletes eligible for the award out of a class of 548.
Larkin, like Palmer, is also not the first athlete in his family to achieve this honor. He follows his four older siblings, Connor (2005), Chelsea (2006), Brock (2008), and Tor (2010).
Larkin and Palmer are not the fist athletes to win this award, nor will they be the last. Since 1996 when the award was established, 32 Huntley students have graduated with the 12-Seasons Award.
However, each year, the class sizes have been growing. In 1996, the school was the size of half the current freshman class. There are 2,377 kids currently attending Huntley, but the number of positions on each sports team has not drastically changed since the ’90s.
In addition to growing competition within the school, athletes are also competing at a higher level than they have in the past. Huntley has moved from what is now the Big Northern Conference (made up of small schools, including Marengo,) to the Fox Valley Conference, Valley Division. Here Huntley is matched up against athletic powerhouses like Crystal Lake South and Cary Grove, which consistently make state runs in multiple sports. The competition is increasing, and kids are forced to specialize if they wish to play at the varsity level.
”I think three-sport athletes are becoming a rarity,” said Assistant Athletic Director and varsity volleyball coach Michelle Jakubowski. “People want to [play in] college. If you don’t specialize, it’ll be difficult to move on, to get a scholarship, and to be the best in that sport.”
Some of the three sport athletes still strive to earn college scholarships, such as juniors Kameron Sallee and Haley Ream. To achieve this, they focus more on their best sports. They play the other sports to stay in shape and add variety to their physical activities.
But neither Palmer nor Larkin plan on playing varsity sports in college. Larkin is enlisting in the Marines Corps, and Palmer would like to continue his athletic career, only at the intramural level in college, playing against students from his own school.
Three-sport athletes also face the argument that their sports take time away from their school work and they receive lower grades, but they all maintain that their athletic career benefits their academics.
“I think I do better academically if I do sports,” said Palmer. “It keeps me busy and active.”
Sports have always been a part of Palmer’s life.
“He always had sports toys. He had the Little Tykes basketball hoop,” said Thom Palmer, Ryan’s father. “Right when he started walking, he was practicing layups.”
Thom and his wife Nancy have always been supportive of their son’s athletic career, be it from coaching on the sidelines to cheering in the crowd.
“His mother and I have been really proud of the fact that he’s had the goal of achieving the 12-sports award,” said Thom. “We’ve been in the stands, bleachers, and the benches at the ball diamond throughout his career.”
But, in the end, it is not about the scholarships or following a family tradition. It never has been. For Palmer, it is all about doing what he loves. It always has been.
“It would be very boring [without sports]. I would miss it a lot and I’d miss all of my friends,” said Palmer. “Obviously I want to do my best, but in every sport I play, I want to have fun.”