May 29, 2014

Two Heights athletes maximize their spring sports outings

There’s a possibility that Friday morning, Heights sophomore Creighton Sanders will be flying in a private plane from Wichita to Manhattan.

There’s a possibility that Friday morning, Heights sophomore Creighton Sanders will be flying in a private plane from Wichita to Manhattan.

Sanders has successfully juggled playing left field for the Falcons’ baseball team while running the 110-meter hurdles for the track team. But Friday’s schedule could hamper his goal of competing for two titles in two sports in the same season.

If Sanders and top-seeded Heights (20-2) win the baseball opener in the Class 5A tournament over Topeka Seaman (11-11) on Thursday at Kansas State, Heights would play in the semifinals at 11 a.m. Friday.

The boys 110 hurdles will be at about 9:20 a.m. Friday at Cessna Stadium. The only way for Sanders to get from track to baseball would be by flying.

So the private plane is a possibility?

“My mom’s working on it,” Sanders said.

Sanders and fellow Heights outfielder Caleb Haight, a senior, have both been playing two spring sports at a high level. Haight competed in the 5A golf tournament on Tuesday at Wichita Country Club, finishing second with a 73. Sanders won his regional 110 hurdles race on Friday.

And neither would change a thing.

“I’ll be able to say that I tried all that I could, and I had a blast doing it, too,” Haight said.

Sanders initially went out for track for fun, but it became more than that.

“If I didn’t take the chance to do track this year, I wouldn’t know what I could do,” Sanders said.

Multi-sport athletes often have to figure out how to balance their sports practices through the summer, but Haight and Sanders had to make tough choices that often cut into one or the other sport’s practice times.

Sanders, 5A’s No. 2 seed in the 110 hurdles who is hitting .424 with 24 RBIs and 11 stolen bases, spends an hour at track practice, then heads over to baseball. Sanders ensures that each practice is intense and high quality for the entire time he’s there.

“While he might be doing it for fun, he really, really hates to lose,” Heights boys track coach Steve Crosley said. “He’s an extremely competitive young man.”

Haight has played both sports all four years after he made a deal with baseball coach Jeff Topping that he’d skip baseball only right before golf tournaments, playing golf on the weekends.

He played in all but six of Heights’ baseball games, but he chose to miss a golf tournament to play with his fellow seniors on senior night.

Haight simply couldn’t imagine giving up either.

“I loved it too much,” said Haight, who is hitting .344 with 19 runs, seven doubles and only four strikeouts.

Haight and Sanders are rarities in an era where many elite athletes choose to specialize in a single sport.

“I knew Caleb was a big-time golfer,” Topping said. “I didn’t want to draw a line in the sand when he said he wanted to do both so we split time.”

As for why Topping was open to splitting time when some coaches frown on athletes playing another sport in a different season, he laughed.

“It makes our team better. Having Caleb in leadoff and in left field makes us better,” Topping said. “ Having Creighton in right field makes us better.

“They’re both quality kids, quality people. They just want to win and be a part of those programs.”

And talented.

Haight has signed to play golf at Nebraska-Omaha, while Sanders is garnering interest from Football Bowl Subdivision programs such as Oregon, which recently made a recruiting trip to Wichita.

There have been headaches, primarily due to increased communication needs. Text messages are sent daily about where Sanders is after school and what time he’ll leave track practice to head to the diamond. There’s daily texts between coaches about whether Haight is going to golf practice or heading to baseball.

Topping has a white board with the practice schedule on it in the dugout, and it includes what players are missing and why, if Sanders is at track and Haight at golf.

Being that Sanders and Haight play in the outfield, Topping can tailor his practice schedule for them. It would probably be different if they were infielders because of the necessary daily work of taking grounders.

It also helps that there are no chemistry issues due to Haight and Sanders’ personalities.

“Curtis (Whitten) is in center, and he runs down most stuff, and we put them out there on the lines,” Topping said. “Get what you can get, whatever Curtis can’t get. But they’re all tremendously fast. I think we have one of the fastest outfields in the city, if into the state.”

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