NOV.1, 2022 — It’s 2:15 p.m. at the Pal-Mac High School when suddenly, the almost completely quiet hallways quickly turn up a decibel with a loud pinging sound. The pinging is the dismissal bell, which spells the end of the school day for most students.
As a crowd of students pours out of their classrooms to leave for the day, two make their way to the school’s cafeteria: Seniors Brett Rooks and Mateo Sloan. Yes, the school day may be done, but for these two, the day isn’t even close to half-over.
Each sporting white Pal-Mac football jerseys, the two stood next to each other on a railing in the lower cafe. We’re catching them just a few hours before the two are set to take on Honeoye Falls-Lima in the Section V (Five) Class B1 Quarterfinal round.
Sloan is the team’s kicker and punter, while Rooks plays several positions on all three phases of the game ranging from linebacker to fullback, as well as the team's long-snapper.
Being student-athletes, it’s no surprise Rooks and Sloan made adjustments to their schedule to speak with us because they’ve had to make plenty of adjustments this year.
“It’s no problem,” Sloan said.
See, these two students are what we call “dual-sports” athletes. This means exactly what it sounds like: They play two sports. Pal-Mac is filled with these types of athletes, as you could typically find someone playing for a different team across all three athletic seasons (Fall, Winter, Spring)
But this is where Rooks and Sloan differ from ANY other Pal-Mac athlete… ever. See, they don’t just compete in two different sports, they’ve competed in those different sports in the SAME season.
Sloan (above) playing for the soccer team
Rooks split time between the gridiron and the golf course as a member of the boys' varsity team. He’s played on the team since he was in eighth grade. When Sloan wasn’t kicking field goals or kickoffs, he was handling a different type of futbol as a member of the varsity boys' soccer team. Soccer runs deep for Sloan, as he says he’s played the sport for pretty much all of his life.
See, both students didn’t join the football team until this year. Sloan hadn’t even played an organized game of football before this year.
“I kind of wanted to see that experience, you know?” Sloan said. “Just wanted to have fun with friends and all of that.”
Rooks had tackle football experience, though he says he last played in a Pop Warner league.
“I figured I might as well do it my senior year,” Rooks said.
Both Rooks and Sloan say they were encouraged by their friends, and even some coaches to join the football team.
“Basically everyone was all over me about it,” Rooks said.
So why didn’t they choose to take on the two-sport challenge sooner? Well, for starters, it wasn’t even possible until recently.
Section V approved Dual-Participation for student-athletes in March 2020. The approval aligned with guidance from the New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA), which a spokesperson says has allowed dual participants “for decades.” The Finger Lakes High School Athletic Association, in which Pal-Mac competes, approved the move shortly after.
Pal-Mac adopted the policy in 2022, as Athletic Director Tom Schmandt said he first wanted to observe how the approach worked in other Districts before bringing it here.
The process is not as simple as telling coaches you’re going to play for both teams. Per NYSPHSAA and Section V guidelines, a student-athlete must meet the requirements for practice and game participation. Those requirements differ between a team sport like football or soccer and a more individually-focused sport like golf or swimming.
For team sports, players have to compete in at least six scheduled games, while individual athletes must compete in at least three games. Those scheduled games all must happen before the postseason.
For safety reasons, certain sports cannot be played at the same time.
Rooks and Sloan also met with Schmandt to get approval before moving forward.
“They are pioneers at Pal-Mac, at least in my tenure,” Schmandt said. “It is difficult to do and both did it well.”
On top of the state and local requirements, Schmandt said playing for two teams in one season is quite the time requirement for everyone involved.
“It takes a lot of flexibility from coaches, parents, and student-athletes alike,” Schmandt said.
Sloan said he would mostly spend time at soccer practice, as that was his designated primary sport. At times, he practiced with the soccer team for a bit and then literally ran across to the football field if there was still practice in progress.
“For me, it was easier to be a kicker just because I can go to football practice for like 30 minutes and kick a couple of times,” Sloan said. “But if I had a football game I would miss [soccer] practice.”
He says he only had one potential scheduling conflict when it came down to a game, but a rainout helped avoid that.
Despite the back-and-forth, Sloan’s soccer head coach, Chris Mahnke, spoke glowingly of his contributions to the team.
“Mateo is a kid that has played soccer his whole life. As an athlete, he has great size and unequaled speed. When this kid wants to work he has the ability to affect an entire contest. Above and beyond being a very good player Mateo's personality and sense of humor make him a fantastic human. I can say that I have truly loved coaching this young man.”
Rooks says he did not practice with the golf team in the Fall but did appear in most of their matches unless, of course, the match was on a Friday.
Head golf coach Dan Harris said Rooks would routinely attend golf practice in the mornings during the summer, and then go to football in the afternoons.
“Brett was consistently one of our top golfers all season long,” Harris said. “His athleticism and knowledge helped him perform well on the golf course, even though he seldom attended practices due to having to be at football. Brett was a great teammate to his peers on the golf team as well, always encouraging them via text on the days he was unable to be at the matches.”
The praise for the two athletes was echoed by head football coach Bill Steines.
“They were both dedicated to both of their sports,” Steines said. “It took them a lot of dedication to accomplish what they did. Both were great teammates and I am honored to have the opportunity to coach them.”
Athletics aside, Rooks and Sloan are both STUDENT-athletes, so on top of practices, they have to make sure they are hitting the books.
“I really didn’t have many struggles with classroom stuff,” Rooks said.” I’m usually a pretty smart kid, I get my homework done in class. So that didn’t really affect me.”
Sloan added he was able to stay focused in class, though the time spent practicing and playing did cut into his ability to work.
All that considered, both students say they have no regrets.
QUESTION: Would you have done this in previous years?
QUESTION: Would you recommend someone else do it?
SLOAN: “Yeah, one of my friends wants to do it next year.”
ROOKS: “Yeah, it was kinda fun.”
The Red Raider football team went on to fall to HFL just hours after we spoke, effectively ending the season for both Rooks and Sloan. Golf and soccer had wrapped up their respective seasons the same week we spoke.
Up next, Rooks will compete for the varsity wrestling team as he has done for the last several years. He was the lone Pal-Mac representative in the New York State tournament last Winter. The golf team also still has team Sectionals, which will take place in May 2023.
Sloan is looking at a repeat act this Winter as he weighs his usual spot on the indoor track team while also potentially hitting the wrestling mat, right alongside Rooks.