Esko family bucks the trend
The numbers suggest fewer and fewer local youngsters are playing sports these days. Just don't tell that to Jeff and Jen Carlson of Esko. The parents of three sports-crazed sons seemingly spend the bulk of their time doing one of two things: watc...
The numbers suggest fewer and fewer local youngsters are playing sports these days.
Just don't tell that to Jeff and Jen Carlson of Esko.
The parents of three sports-crazed sons seemingly spend the bulk of their time doing one of two things: watching a game or practice, or driving to a game or practice. Ask either parent a good time to schedule a meeting, and instinctively both reach for their cell phones to reference cluttered calendars.
The Carlsons are a bit of an anomaly at a time when young people are shying away from sports -- especially the traditional Big 4 of baseball, basketball, football and hockey -- or, as is often the case, specializing in a single sport.
The only thing the Carlson kids specialize in, though, is staying busy. The oldest, Austin, a 16-year-old sophomore at Esko High School, plays hockey and baseball, while 11-year-old Owen, a fifth-grader, does hockey, baseball and football. And then there's 9-year-old Ethen, who wasn't supposed to play sports, according to his parents' master plan.
Ethen didn't get the memo. The third-grader plays hockey, baseball, football and soccer.
And, because four sports didn't fully jam up his social docket, Ethen also skis.
How do they do it?
"We don't get too far ahead of ourselves," says Jeff, 37, who owns a franchise of Miller's Roofing and consequently has a little more free time in the winter to get his sons where they need to be. "We just go day to day."
"We bought a Prius," quips Jen, 34 and a senior accountant at Western Lake Superior Sanitary District, of the smallish fuel-efficient hybrid that lets her family save money while zigzagging across the state watching games. "You should see us ... all five of us getting out of there with our hockey bags."
Truth be told -- and even while Jen, tongue in cheek, says she offers each of her sons $1,000 every season to not play hockey -- the parents relish seeing their kids commit so wholeheartedly to all of the various sports.
So it's worth it, then?
"For me it is, because they work so hard and they are so passionate about it," Jen says.
It's not like mom and dad forced their kids into athletics. Like many parents, they wanted their three boys to branch out, try new things, and they'd be there to support them. For their part, Jen played softball and volleyball in high school, while Jeff didn't play any sports.
"We encouraged them to try everything," Jeff says, adding: "We'll get you there and make sure you have everything you need."
Recently, as youth athletics have become more and more competitive, the burgeoning trend is specialization, where an athlete focuses all of his or her energy solely on one sport, which often is played year-round. In the Northland, where hockey is such an integral part of life, that typically means day after day at the rink, whether in summer, spring, fall or winter.
But the Carlson parents didn't want that kind of grind for their kids.
Thus, Jeff and Jen have a rule that "if you don't register for baseball in the summer" -- or any activity that isn't hockey, sporting or nonsporting -- "then you don't register for hockey in the winter because we don't want them in the arena all summer," Jen says.
That philosophy suits Austin just fine. While he loves both the sports he plays, he admits to needing the occasional break, as well as a desire to focus on whatever's in-season.
"I get tired of (hockey) in the summer because I just wanna play baseball," says Austin, who has his driver's license and can lessen the logistical burden on mom and dad. He plays both VFW and American Legion baseball.
All three Carlson kids got into sports at young ages, in equal parts because of friends and their siblings. Owen got his first pair of goalie pads at age 3, while Ethen, the youngest, never has had a new piece of equipment thanks to hand-me-downs, Jen says.
(Asked his favorite sport, Ethen bluntly says: "Hockey, of course!" before adding, "I like the Gophers.")
For the Carlsons, there's no reprieve in sight. Austin has two years of high school left, and neither he, nor Owen or Ethen, show signs of trading in their spikes or skates anytime soon.
That's OK with their road-weary parents, so long as the kids keep working hard and enjoying themselves.
Chipping in for gas money wouldn't hurt, either.