BY JEFF FALK
Please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not a huge fan of specialization for scholastic athletes. When it comes to trying different things, pursuing various interests, being flexible and versatile, I’m you’re guy.
But for high school athletes to pursue their favorite sports at the next level, it sometimes requires specialization. The hardest parts are deciding, deciding when to decide and the sport or sports one leaves behind.
Specialization has cost Lebanon County one of its most promising football players. The casualty? Annville-Cleona and Lebanon Catholic’s Anthony Pletz.
A student at Lebanon Catholic, Pletz has decided to forgo his senior season of football at Annville-Cleona (the two local schools are in the third year of an agreement that allows Lebanon Catholic students to play football at A-C). Pletz made his decision in order to focus all of his energies on basketball.
“I decided not to play football right after the end of school,” said Pletz. “Pretty much to focus on basketball, because that’s what I want to do in college. I need to work on my shot, get faster and get bigger and stronger.
“I’ve been playing football pretty much all of my life,” continued Pletz, “so it was a tough decision. But I decided in my mind and followed through with it.”
But by deciding to become the best basketball player he can be, we’ll never know how good of a football player Pletz could’ve become. At 6-2 and with good feet and a cannon for a right arm, Pletz had all the tools to develop into a pocket or roll-out quarterback, perhaps at the Division Three or Division Two level in college.
“If I would’ve played football, it would’ve taken more time out of my day, time I could be using to practice my shooting, my ball handling and my quickness,” said Pletz. “Actually, when I was really little, my favorite sport was baseball, until I gave it up. And then my favorite sport was football, until I got good at basketball. The game pace (for basketball) is so much faster, and I like playing fast.”
“Anthony decided to concentrate on basketball,” said Annville-Cleona head football coach Terry Lehman. “It’s not a shock or surprise. It’s all good. We knew about it in the spring.”
There are no hard feelings or animosity between Pletz and the Little Dutchmen. The two parted on good terms. Both parties understood where the other one is coming from.
“Yeah, it was a good experience, getting to know different people, getting to see how different players play and getting to see how different coaches coach,” said Pletz, who transferred to Lebanon Catholic in 2012, after somewhat of a break-out sophomore season at Elco. “It was different not playing with my friends from Elco, but it was a good experience.
“Oh yeah, they (the Little Dutchmen) accepted me from the first day,” Pletz continued. “Even after I told them I wasn’t going to play football this year, they still treated me like a teammate. I’m definitely going to go to some Annville-Cleona games this season, but probably mostly Elco games.”
“He’s a very nice kid,” said Lehman of Pletz. “He fit in really well. We’d love to have him. He’s a great athlete. Athletically, he has the knack that you can’t teach.”
Due in part to his late arrival, Pletz never really settled into one set position for the Little Dutchmen last season. Though he took some snaps at quarterback, more often than not he lined up at wide receiver, a position where he performed admirably overall.
“My role was to go out and play football,” said Pletz. “I was a quarterback growing up, but they wanted me to play receiver, and they needed me there. And I did pretty good at it.
“I like playing quarterback, but it was just playing football,” continued Pletz. “I love football, but I have more love for the game of basketball. I’m OK at football. But I don’t know if I’m an all-star.”
“Yes and no,” said Lehman when asked if he was pleased with how Pletz was utilized last season. “We were fortunate to have Anthony. I wish I would’ve had more time to prepare for him. But we struggled with how to use him.”
Pletz’s love for the game of basketball was stoked by the success he and his Lebanon Catholic teammates enjoyed on the court this winter. With Timmy Orr leading the way and Pletz performing well in a supporting role, the Beavers claimed the District Three Class A championship at Giant Center in Hershey.
“One of the things I remember is having a really bad game against Lancaster Catholic,” said Pletz of the Beavers’ 2012-13 campaign. “I remember coach (Scott Clentimack) telling us after the game, ‘Once we get to Giant Center, we’ll forget about this game.’ We did, and we did. What’s going to motivate us this year is getting back to that district championship game.
“And that’s another reason I want to focus on basketball,” Pletz added. “Some guys are going to look to me to try and fill Timmy’s (Orr) shoes. It’s going to be hard, but I’m willing to work to try to do it.”
If he works hard enough, Pletz has the potential to be a solid basketball player on the Division Three or Division Two level. Just recently did Pletz send out a highlight reel of his basketball exploits to perspective college suitors.
“I’d like to go Division Two, but as long as I’m playing that’s all that matters,” said Pletz. “If I go Division Three, my goal is to play all four years. Coach (Clentimack) and I just sent out some highlight film and I hope to hear back from them soon.
“I just really want to get my game right for basketball,” Pletz added, “and that’s what keeps me motivated. I didn’t have the same love for football.”
While Pletz’s full attention is on hoops, he stopped short of saying he would never play organized football again.
“I’m not really sure,” said Pletz. “I want to play at least one sport in college. If basketball doesn’t go well, maybe I’ll walk on at a Division Three (football) school.”