Giving Up Sports Has Never Sounded So Good
One of the most difficult decisions for a high school athlete to make is to drop one sport to concentrate on another sport or subject. It's been the cause of many a fitful night's sleep and heart-to-heart talks around the kitchen table.
Consider Battlefield High junior Cole Walowac. This spring, he could have been the starting second baseman, just as he was last year, on a baseball team that would contend for the Virginia AAA Cedar Run District title and perhaps even more coveted banners.
Walowac's true love is music, drumming in particular, and he is in a band, Restless Street, with four classmates. They have played at the 9:30 club in the District and Jaxx in Springfield.
So, Walowac had to decide: Keep playing high school sports because he had only two more years to do so and the rest of his life to play music? Or thump bass drums instead of baseballs?
His decision on which sticks to swing? Let's put it this way: While the Bobcats were playing in a spring break baseball tournament, Walowac was tagging along on tour with his uncle, Grammy-nominated Christian rocker-rapper TobyMac, and got to join him onstage in Tampa in front of thousands of fans to perform the popular set closer "Jesus Freak."
"The feeling that I got -- it was crazy," said Walowac, who would sit onstage behind drummer Brian Haley, soaking in the atmosphere during shows. "I've never had that feeling."
So Walowac, who also golfed last fall for Battlefield when he could find the time, is content with the sports-less path that he has chosen. Three of his band mates -- bassist Travis Ey, singer-rhythm guitarist Jon White and lead guitarist Korbin Doss, all juniors -- also have given up sports. Ey played No. 6 singles on the Prince William County school's tennis team; White and Doss were quarterbacks. Doss also played baseball. (Keyboardist Jamal Wallace is the only senior and non-athlete in the quintet.)
"Music has been something that's always been a backdrop for all of us," Ey said. "It's been a big decision to not [play sports] because that's basically shutting out your senior year, as well."
Walowac, the most accomplished athletically of the four, was willing to make that sacrifice, trading jock-dom for rock-dom. He said his mother, Kristen Carroll, wanted him to think hard about giving up his final years of sports, considering his limited window to play them. Cole's father, Ed Walowac, suggested that he make a list of the pros and cons of each choice and not regret the decision.
"It took a while," Cole said Saturday morning in Ey's basement, several hours before the band was to perform at an event at Battlefield. "It was hard for me. I knew I wanted to play music. If I were to go play college baseball, you have to be on the skill level to go, or else you're done, they won't pick you. I sort of see it like that for music. I have to be ready as soon as I get out of high school and be as good as I can be."
Three Restless Street members, in separate interviews, described the band's sound as a hybrid of Coldplay and Incubus. The sampling of the band's songs on its MySpace page is a bit outdated by the members' rising standards; a new batch of tunes probably will be posted soon.
When Walowac, who also plays guitar and is in the chamber choir at school, received a drum kit for his eighth birthday, he spent hours banging along to his uncle's music, pretending he was the drummer for TobyMac (real name Kevin Michael McKeehan, a graduate of Bethlehem Christian Academy in Fairfax).
"I just got this feeling that I never got from anything else," Walowac said. "The whole aspect, the whole atmosphere of being around music and touring the world to share music with others and to change people's lives is not something you can do in sports. I really want to reach out to others because we play Christian music. If we can change people's lives, then we're doing the right thing. If I were to go play college baseball . . . they would just see me playing the sport. They can't see how I live my life and stuff, what I believe in."
Walowac is considered an aggressive yet meticulous drummer by rhythm section partner Ey. On this particular Saturday, the well-spoken timekeeper has the young-musician thing down cold: He's a self-described "bed head" who somehow looks fashionable, with an earring, a part-time job at a pizza joint and a penchant for using the word "awesome."
Even when the former athletes in Restless Street should have been thinking about sports, they were thinking about music. Ey used to pluck his tennis racket as if it were a bass guitar. "Every time I'd be watching another person play, I'd be running through, 'Well, let me think about how [the band's song] 'Wonder Why' goes.' "
White said that he would sometimes sing on his way to the huddle and that he and Doss, if on the sideline together, might join forces, a capella.
"We would just stop and think, 'Hey, we should just do music, man,' " White said. "It'd be kind of cool just to do that."
As it turns out, the band members are experiencing through music much of what they would have absorbed playing sports: being part of a team, with a lot of moving parts, and with a collective goal that exceeds individual accomplishments.
"If you're turning a double play, you have to rely on your shortstop," Walowac said, "or if I'm playing short, you have to rely on your second baseman to be there to throw the ball to first. You have to rely on your band members to play the right parts in the songs and know what's coming up and know the choruses and all that stuff."
The band's ambition is to build a fan base locally and, after high school graduation, move to Nashville, where TobyMac is based. For now, Walowac attends the occasional Battlefield baseball game to check up on his former teammates. Maybe they'll check him out at upcoming shows: Brentsville High School on May 30 and an after-graduation party at the Freedom Aquatic and Fitness Center in Manassas on June 6.
"I don't go and regret" not playing at the ballgames, Walowac said. "I go there in happiness for them and happiness for myself. Because I know I made the right decision."
Varsity Letter is a weekly column about high school sports in the Washington area. E-mail Preston Williams firstname.lastname@example.org.