LOCKPORT — The rule change that now allows high school athletes to play more than one sport in a particular sports season could easily have been written by Lockport High School senior Anthony Haak.
Anthony, the son of Doug and Carmella Haak, played soccer his whole life, but had a tremendous love for football as well. However, because those two high school sports are played in the same season (fall) each school year, it was impossible for guys like Anthony to do both.
That is, until the rule change came into play three years ago in Haak's sophomore year allowing student-athletes like him to suit up for two school teams.
In a story that will become more common as we look ahead to future scholastic sports seasons, Haak is a four-sport high school athlete in three sports seasons (fall, winter and spring).
Anthony plays defender in soccer in the fall, while serving as the punter and kicker for the football Lions. In the winter he's a basketball player and in the spring he runs track. Anthony and his family are very proud of the accomplishment and hoping it's the start of a new trend.
“A lot of my soccer teammates who aren't going to be graduating have been talking to me, saying that they want to follow in my footsteps,” Haak said after last Saturday's football loss to visiting Orchard Park at Max D. Lederer Stadium.
Haak booted two extra points in that contest and also boomed several long punts for head coach Trait Smith's football Lions.
“Anthony is a very hard worker and enjoys what he has been able to do with playing more than one sport per season.,” coach Smith said.
“The other players on the football team are willing to wait for him to finish his first practice of soccer at the high school to get to our practice at Emmet for special teams. Anthony is a very likable athlete. He never says a bad word about anything we ask him to do. It seems as if it’s his pleasure to do whatever the team needs. He is very fun to be around.”
Lockport School District athletics director Todd Sukdolak said, “playing four varsity sports is a great accomplishment any way you look at it.
“It's looking like this will also open the door for more students to do the same in the future,” Sukdolak said. “The Niagara Frontier League allowed this as of three years ago and more than most schools still don't do it.”
Retired Lockport AD Patrick M. Burke said the first Lockport four-sport athletes were woman, explaining that when NFL girls' sports first started in the 1970s, the school year was broken down into four sports seasons for the girls, unlike the three sports seasons today for both boys and girls.
Meanwhile, Haak, the school's first official male, 4-sport athlete, said he's been accepted as a true member of every team, especially football and soccer, by both players and coaches from the very start of this experience.
“I'm always referred to as ‘Kicker.’ I don't think anyone really knows my first name,” Haak quipped after the football game. “My soccer teammates are very supportive as well and some of them are here. But honestly, it's just a great environment to be in — just going from team to team — I have two different families in the fall and the brotherhood is something I'll always cherish,” Haak said.
Statistically on the grid iron, Haak has 6 punts for 196 yards with the longest at 47 yards. He also has two kick-off for touchbacks and another one returned for just 7 yards.
A mild breeze from south was a boost to kickers facing north throughout Saturday's football game between the Lions and Quakers. But even with that help, Haak still managed to boot the football almost 20 yards out of the end zone on the opening kickoff.
“Yeah that was the farthest I probably ever kicked a football,” Haak said. “I was honestly pretty shocked. I was so happy after I kicked it. I knew as soon as it left my foot that it was going out of the end zone.”
Haak has booted 50-plus field goals at practice but as of yet hasn't been in a position to attempt any field goals. His strong leg is also a benefit to the soccer Lions, under veteran head coach Jeff Hulshoff.
“I've watched Anthony since he was 10 years old. He made the varsity soccer team as a freshman,” Hulshoff said of Haak, adding that statistically in soccer he's scored 10 goals and added 16 assists in his blue and gold soccer career.
“He's shone growth and maturity throughout his high school career as he has been one of my captains for the past two years and by far my most vocal player both on and off the field,” Hulshoff said of the budding future broadcaster.
“Anthony showed he's the ultimate team player when he noticed we needed help on defense this season, so he moved back from midfield to hopefully give the team a better chance to win,” Hulshoff said.
“I'm amazed at how well he handles being a two-sport athlete in the fall. I've watched him play both this year and he has kicked extra points, field goals along with punting duties. I must admit, though, I cringed a little when I saw him running to attempt a tackle and administering a successful fake punt.”
Haak said nothing would be possible without the support of his parents and family, as well as coaches and teammates.
“My dad loves it. My mom doesn't want me to get hurt. But they're always there supporting me, so that's all that really matters,” Haak said.
What's the difference kicking a football and a soccer ball?
“It's all about the mechanics and the approach,” Haak said. “You're kicking the ball as hard as you can in football, just hoping it goes in between the two yellow poles. Your plant foot is probably the most important thing keeping the ball straight off the kick,” he said.
”In soccer, there's a lot more finesse and technique towards it.”
For now, the outspoken Haak said he's got his eye on a bright future.
“I dream of being a sports broadcaster some day, where ever the wind takes me,” he said.
Follow veteran US&J sports reporter/editor John D'Onofrio at @JohnD'Onofrio7.