By ANDREW WILLIAMS
Sport specialization has become rampant among young athletes today, as many strive for elite status in the chase for the elusive college scholarship.
While three-sport athletes are becoming exceedingly rare in high schools, there is something almost unheard of at that level of athletics: a three-sport head coach.
Eric Hoover is just that.
A 1996 graduate of Old Fort High School and an Ohio Northern University alum, Hoover is the head varsity volleyball and baseball coach at Mohawk, as well as the varsity boys basketball coach at Old Fort.
“It’s not something I planned on doing. It just kind of happened that way,” said Hoover, who is in his 13th year teaching junior high and high school health and physical education at Mohawk.
“I really figured I would be a head basketball coach more than anything else. I’m kind of in a position in my life where I can do all three, (but) it certainly wasn’t a plan, a dream of mine to be the head coach of all three.”
One of only 26 Midland Athletic League boys basketball players to score 1,000 career points since the league’s inception in 1985, Hoover continued his athletic career at ONU. He was studying athletic training and sports medicine when he realized that wasn’t what he wanted to do with his life.
Growing up in a family of teachers, he said education was always where he felt like he should be and making the change has allowed him to do something he loves.
“I think I always kind of knew I wanted to be a teacher,” Hoover said. “I realized, well that’s what I want to do and I can make a difference for a lot of kids and have a lot of fun doing it.
“I have a lot of family in education. My mom was a teacher for 35 years. I’ve got many aunts and uncles who are teachers. My brother is a teacher and coach at Edison High School. I kind of grew up with being a part of the school and having that be a huge part of the community.”
His success as a head coach has validated that decision.
After spending several years in charge of Mohawk’s junior varsity volleyball team, Hoover became the Warriors’ head coach in 2004. He won MAL titles in 2004 and 2012, and led the Warriors to a state semifinal appearance in 2011.
Currently in his eighth season as the school’s baseball coach, Hoover eclipsed 100 wins a year ago and won league championships in each of his first two seasons in 2007 and 2008.
After taking over Old Fort’s boys basketball program in 2011, his Stockaders won a share of the league title in 2012-13 and the outright crown in the MAL’s final season in 2013-14.
As a baseball and basketball player through high school, Hoover believed those would be the sports he would most likely coach. But volleyball entered the picture because his mother, Nancy Hoover, has been the volleyball coach at Old Fort for more than 30 years.
All three are unique to him in their own way, and he has learned to love and appreciate the nuances of each of them.
“I grew up with it, with her coaching my whole life,” he said of his mother. “I was always in the gym after school with them when I was younger, so I learned just from watching.
“I was always really involved in athletics growing up no matter what it was. I never really thought I would coach volleyball until I helped her one year as a varsity assistant when I was doing my student teaching and I really liked it.
“I really do enjoy all three. Often people will ask, ‘Well which one’s your favorite?’ Whichever one’s in season is my answer. I couldn’t pick a favorite out of the three.”
Time is an even more precious commodity for Hoover than for many people, considering his teaching responsibilities during the school year and his coaching duties year round.
Depending on the school, most athletes who compete in multiple sports are allowed time off in between seasons before having to report for practice. Hoover gets no such luxury.
“I don’t get that and I guess you can look at that either way,” he said of the break between seasons.
“Some people might want that little bit of a break. But I get bored real easy when that happens. I enjoy moving one right into the other.
“Sometimes they will run right into each other. It’s tough and it can be tiring during those times. I have good people that I know are going to do the right things if there’s times when I can’t be there.
“I really enjoy all of it. Even going twice a day. It doesn’t really seem to affect me too much. I enjoy it when I’m there practicing and working with the kids.”
The time factor, though tight at certain points of the year, is something Hoover has learned to adapt to through years of experience in teaching and coaching. Tthe demanding schedule he has created for himself is actually something he has come to love.
“It does get hard sometimes,” he said. “I enjoy teaching very much. I know that that’s my main job. You just have to plan things well enough. If you plan things well enough, there’s enough time in the day to get everything done.
“I could have never done this when I was younger, just getting started. Now that I have more experience I’m able to have a lot better idea of what things I want to get done, how long things are going to take and I’m able to plan it better to make it work.”
Although he coaches volleyball, basketball and baseball, Hoover admitted his favorite sport is actually golf and that he tries to steal away for a few hours at a time during the summer to play whenever he gets the chance.
He even said he would consider coaching golf later in his career if he decided he wanted to lighten his load a little bit.
Lightening the load, though, isn’t something he plans on doing anytime soon.
“I don’t know. I wouldn’t even want to guess,” Hoover said when asked how much longer he thinks he will continue coaching three sports.
“I don’t feel at this point like I’m getting tired of it. At any point I feel like if I’m doing something where I’m only giving half and I feel like somebody could give more effort to them then I think it wouldn’t be fair to them to keep going.
“I’m not to that point yet.”
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