The Multi-Sport Athlete is Alive and Well

In pretty much every article you read about multi-sport athletes, it’s generally the same story. This is the era of sports specialization, they say, where the bygone days of high school athletes that lettered in multiple sports like football, baseball and track are only faded memories for dusty hallway trophy cases. This is 2019, and players are being pushed to pick one singular sport and to play it year-round with off-season games and tournaments being the best way to be recognized by coaches and scouts. The theory is that if you focus on one sport, that’s the best path to improve.

Well, what’s old is new again if you consider the story of Ryan O’Halloran, a 2002-born junior forward playing for Coach Bob Concesion of Burlington High School (MA). O’Halloran followed the path of his two older brothers to play hockey for the Red Devils. He has been playing on varsity since he was a freshman, which is no small feat, and he has improved every season offensively. He’s bumped up his point totals from 18 as a freshman to 29 as a sophomore and now he is leading the team with 11 points early in the year as a junior. We spoke with Coach Concesion about what he means to the Red Devils:

Ryan is a talented hockey player, a workhorse, with great skills and an intense attitude. He is a superior skater who is a threat whenever he is on the ice. This year, Ryan is working to become a complete, 200-foot player, something that will help him play at the next level. We talk about this almost every day.

O’Halloran is also one of six team captains as well, a role he does not take lightly:

I’m one of the assistant captains as a junior so I have a bit more of a leadership role this year. I think it’s good because we have captains in pretty much every position on our team. The sophomore and freshman forwards are the players that I have to take under my wing.

We have always made note of O’Halloran’s play for Neutral Zone in his time playing for Burlington as one of the faster skaters in the MIAA. We’ve made note of his athletic upside on the ice, in fact, he earned a B+ as one of the better athletes playing at the Mass HS Showcase in June. He is obviously a key cog in the lineup for Burlington, but his athleticism goes far beyond the hockey rink.

Hockey and football are the two that are the biggest sports for me – I play both at the same time in the season. In the fall, I play both hockey and baseball at the same time. Baseball I liked a lot more when I was younger, especially in Little League and then my summers were eventually taken over by hockey and football so I didn’t have as much time for it. Now I only play baseball in the spring, that’s pretty much it. I used to play in the summer but it ended up being too much. In the spring I play baseball and a little bit of hockey.

You read that right: hockey, football and baseball all in the same high school athletic season. While this might seem like a rare occurrence to those who preach sports specialization, it’s more like business as usual for the O’Halloran household.

I have two older brothers (Shane and Pat) and they played football, hockey and baseball too. We started as a hockey family, I’ve been playing since I was five. As I got older my brother played football when he was in 8th grade and when he started playing, I started playing because a bunch of my friends I went to school with played too. I started to play football when I was nine in Pop Warner and I’ve played ever since. For baseball, my Dad always coached us and I played AAU and up – I’ve been playing for a while. Sports in this house have always been a big deal.

Photo Credit: Bob Dechiara

Of course, both of his older brothers had to draw inspiration from somewhere, which was our next question to Ryan:

Yeah, my Dad played football in college, he also played a little baseball growing up and my Mom was a soccer and track athlete.

Clearly, there was nothing limiting the number of sports Ryan or his brothers could play in high school, as long as they were enjoying what they were doing. It’s one thing to enjoy the sports you play, but it’s quite another to be successful in many of them. Take O’Halloran’s junior football season as an example:

Our season just ended on Thanksgiving. This year we went 5-1, made the playoffs but lost in the first round and then we played a bunch of consolation games and we lost a few of those so we ended up going 5-6. I play wide receiver, this year I had 53 receptions, 1,114 receiving yards and nine touchdowns – eight receiving and then one was a kick return TD. I led the receivers in yards this season.

We should also note that for his exploits, he was named a Middlesex League All-Star and he was chosen to the All-Conference Team. The year prior, as a sophomore, O’Halloran put up similar numbers as a wideout: 58 receptions, 904 receiving yards and eight touchdowns and he was named a Middlesex League All-Star as well. He also started six games as a freshman on a varsity football team playing as a cornerback: not bad at all.

To complete the sporting triumvirate we asked Ryan about his high school baseball career as well:

I’ve been on the team since my freshman year for that too. We were pretty good in my freshman and sophomore years: we won two games in the playoffs the past two years. I play second base.

The high school infielder (unsurprisingly) has started on varsity since his freshman year – he hit a respectable .250 that season. The next year, he once again started at second and improved his average considerably to .283. There are no stats yet to show for his junior year as the season has not officially started yet, but we are willing to bet that things will go well, for him and the Red Devils on the diamond.

Photo Credit: Bob Dechiara

Despite having so much success in various sports for Burlington, O’Halloran seeks to play hockey, and only hockey at the collegiate level as he explains:

With hockey it’s harder to play multiple sports, you could play basketball and baseball, maybe, in college but for hockey it’s usually something you need to focus on. Right now, my favorite sport is hockey: I would like to play hockey in college, that’s the goal.

Many of the skills we noticed at the rink on game days are not something that he takes for granted either, there is something to be said for learning from other sports and using that knowledge for your favorite sport:

USA Hockey always says it: they recommend that kids play other sports. In football, it makes you more athletic which helps me in hockey. I’ve really just gotten used to it because I’ve been doing it for so long. Since I started playing football, I’d get in the car, put on my football gear in the car then go to a hockey game or vice versa.

For me, in all three sports I’ve learned the value of hard work. If you work hard it doesn’t matter how talented you are, you can figure it out. In my freshman year, I was a little 14 year old freshman, so I grinded it out and I figure that I did well for myself.

Hard work doesn’t take a game off, and it is evident both in his statistics and in his play for all three sports. The other underlying factor here is how he continues to improve every season, playing for his hometown in front of his family, and Coach Concesion agrees:

I think the quality that I admire most in the O’Halloran family is their loyalty; a trait that is disappearing as quickly as the three-sport high school athlete. Although very different athletes: Shane, Patrick, and Ryan have played significant roles in our excellence as a high school hockey program. They take immense pride in competing for their town and with their friends.

Fewer and fewer athletes are electing to stay and play for their hometown team: especially when they are receiving so many offers from junior teams, prep schools and the like. O’Halloran mentioned that he has not had any talks with college coaches yet, another rarity for skilled athletes his age, and that he is hoping to continue his hockey career after high school: possibly for a junior team or prep school before heading to college.

It’s rare to find athletes like him in 2019, but whether he is aware of it or not: Ryan O’Halloran is proving that the multi-sport athlete is not only still kicking, but alive and well.

Editor’s Note: The O’Halloran family also runs an annual 7-on-7 Thanksgiving football tournament with all proceeds benefiting Mass General Breast Cancer Research. To learn more about how you can get involved and donate, find them on Twitter @Playforacure7v7 or at