For most families, watching a child of their own commit to play a varsity sport in college is a once-in-a-lifetime occasion. It’s an achievement that can’t easily be topped, one that happy parents can brag about for the rest of their days.
For the Doyle family, you could call it a rite of passage.
It’s not that Laura and George Doyle are overly proud or flippant about sending their kids to play Division 1 sports in college; it’s just that they’re pretty used to it. Their youngest daughter, Katherine, a junior at Flint Hill School, verbally committed in January to play lacrosse at Bucknell University. That made her the fourth Doyle child in the last five years to make the jump to college athletics from the Oakton private school, where last week’s announcement regarding Katherine’s commitment must have felt more like an annual routine than it did breaking news.
“I thought, ‘Wow, pretty tremendous feat,’” Flint Hill girls lacrosse coach Justin Fitzgerald said. “As a family, the other part for me is the fact that all the schools that they’re going to be attending are not only great sports schools, but they’re also great academic institutions. To me that clearly reflects a healthy balance.”
Indeed, the schools chosen by the Doyles aren’t exactly cupcakes. Matt Doyle, a 2009 Flint Hill grad, is a senior pitcher on Harvard’s baseball team; Claire walked onto Bucknell’s lacrosse team last year; and Katherine’s twin brother, Tommy, committed last fall to play baseball at the University of Virginia.
At the heart of this sporting super family are two parents whose lives have always revolved around athletics in one way or another. Laura Doyle grew up as a three-sport athlete in Wilmington, Del. before playing varsity lacrosse and field hockey during her college years at Lafayette. George Doyle also thrived as a multi-sport athlete in his youth, eventually settling on intramurals and junior varsity basketball at Virginia Tech.
Whereas several of Laura’s teammates took on two sports at Lafayette, the practice of committing to play more than one sport at the Division 1 level has become exceedingly rare these days. College sports are far more competitive today than they were in the early 1980’s, when training for the upcoming season was considerably more rudimentary.
“We didn’t lift weights,” Laura said. “The only running we did was running around the field a mile or two miles.”
The practice of waltzing into college sports with your pick of the litter is no more, as the proliferation of youth programs and club teams has encouraged kids to devote their energies to one sport in order to stay competitive with other college-bound athletes. Katherine, a three-sport athlete at Flint Hill, faced this dilemma as recently as last year. A key member of the school’s varsity basketball, soccer and lacrosse teams since her freshman year, she entered her junior year knowing only one of those sports could be seriously pursued at the college level.
Last fall, she finally decided on lacrosse, the game that seems to instill the most passion in her. She joined the Capital Lacrosse Club, a Washington D.C., area organization geared toward giving its players more visibility to the college recruiting process. From there she needed to weigh college offers, a decision that eventually came down between Bucknell and William and Mary. She picked Bucknell, where her sister, Claire, played lacrosse her freshman year before deciding to pursue other interests this year.
“I love the direction that they’re taking with the lacrosse program,” said Katherine, a defensive midfielder whose speed helps her excel on both ends of the field. “They’re really motivating all their players to do their best in every game and every practice and just keeping it positive. The coaches are really pushing everybody to be better players and better teammates for each other.”
Born five minutes before his twin sister, Tommy made his college decision a couple months before Katherine made her commitment. Like the rest of his family, Tommy grew up competing in more than one sport, contributing to Flint Hill’s baseball, football and basketball teams prior to last year. The physical development that brought him his current 6-foot-6, 215-pound frame turned him into a legitimate college baseball prospect, which led him to drop other sports in favor of the one he loved most heading into his junior year.
With his high school baseball season set to kick off this Saturday against West Springfield, Flint Hill’s right-handed ace can take comfort in knowing he’s already committed to his dream school.
“Ever since I began to start to look forward to college for baseball, [Virginia] was my number one school, with academics and baseball being both high,” Tommy said. “It’s just a humbling experience knowing that I can continue to play baseball at the collegiate level.”
Aside from the occasional pick-up basketball game in the driveway, Tommy and Katherine were never hyper-competitive with each other when it came to sports. Perhaps that’s a reflection of their parents, who always encouraged their kids to pursue their own interests rather than push them to follow in their footsteps.
Yet the kids followed those footsteps anyway, making the path to college sports a well-trod one in the Doyle household.
“It’s been cool to grow up with such an athletic family,” said Katherine, whose Flint Hill lacrosse team is aiming to improve on last year’s third-place finish in the Independent Schools League this season. “We’ve been really blessed to have parents who actually take us to all these games and practices all the time. I’m really thankful for that.”