When Kyle Whitham sank his putt on the 18th green last Monday to conclude his round in the Madison Golf Sectional, the score of 89 the Switzerland County High School senior was just short of qualifying him to advance to the Regional.
With that putt, not only did the golf season close for Whitham, it also closed an outstanding athletic career — including a senior year that was not only successful, but also unprecedented in Switzerland County athletic history.
The son of Kevin Whitham of East Enterprise and Michelle Barrett of near Vevay, during his senior year, Kyle played five varsity sports: football and soccer in the fall; basketball in the winter; and baseball and golf in the spring.
Not only did he excel in those sports, but he earned All Conference honors in all five.
It is believed that it’s the first time in school history that a Pacer has earned five All Conference honors in the same year.
“Coming into my senior year, that was my main individual goal,” Whitham said. “To win a Sectional is obviously the first and main goal for every team I played on, but being All Conference was my individual goal. But I wanted to be all conference in all five, that was my main goal for my senior year. I used to play even more sports. I used to throw discus and shot in track, and I wish I still did. I couldn’t do three sports in one season, with track, baseball, and golf; but I’ve always played sports.”
For golf, an athlete can earn all conference honors by being one of the low scorers of the conference tournament; but in team sports for the other four, all conference teams are voted on by the other coaches in the conference, and coaches are not allowed to vote for players on their own teams.
“First, you have to win games to get all conference, because if you don’t win any games, they aren’t going to choose someone from your team,” Whitham said. “Many times the team that finishes last doesn’t get a player on the all conference team, so you have to win games so that other coaches notice players on your team that excel.”
For Whitham, there is special meaning in knowing that those other coaches respected his talents enough to vote for him.
“I know, baseball wise, I know many of the coaches,” he said. “Like Coach Bradshaw from Jac-Cen-Del. I’ve got a pretty good relationship with a lot of the other coaches. I talk to them, try and be nice — they don’t vote for players who are rude.”
With four of the sports being part of the Ohio River Valley Conference, football is another matter, because Switzerland County is a member of the Mid Indiana Football Conference, because the only other school in the ORVC with football is Milan.
The football conference includes Edinburgh, Oldenburg Academy, North Decatur, South Decatur, and Milan.
Because Switzerland County has only had a football program for five years, Whitham has been one of the pioneers of the Pacer program, and making an impression on coaches who don’t have a history with the Switzerland County program means working and playing even harder.
“None of those guys have seen me play in anything else, they don’t know who I am,” Kyle said. “So I guess I did make a good impression on them to earn their vote.”
As he concludes his high school career, Whitham has been involved with various sports nearly all his young life. Kyle barely remembers a time when he wasn’t playing something, noting that he was too young to play tee-ball, but got to play anyway.
“I was probably three when I played tee-ball, the youngest player on the team; and I started playing basketball when I was five, so that’s 13 years. Soccer, I started when I was seven; and in football, I played all five years that we’ve had it, because it started when I was in the eighth grade.”
But with the Pacer football program just five years old; that didn’t stop Kyle from football activities as a youngster.
“Punt, Pass and Kick,” he smiled. “When I was eight years old, they had a punt, pass, and kick, and I didn’t think I would do too good at it; but I won the one down here in Vevay; then I had to someplace up in Cincinnati, and it was raining that day and it was hard to hold onto the ball. I won that one by quite a bit; and then we had to go somewhere else in Cincinnati a week later and I won that one.
“The next one was when all of the regions came together at the Cincinnati field, and we did it at halftime of the Bengals game. If I had won that one, I would have gotten to go to the Super Bowl and do it, but I finished second.”
Noting that must have been difficult, Kyle smiled and said, “I lost by 13 inches. I remember it. I will say that kid was nine and I was only eight.”
All five of the sports are different, but Kyle notes that there are also many similarities.
“You’ve got to be a good teammate in all of them,” he notes. “You can’t be successful if you butt heads with your other teammates. I doesn’t work that way. I’ve been a part of teams where everybody’s pulling in different directions, but the talent was there, so we still won games. The team that was the most together that I’ve ever been on was the baseball team this year and we ended up winning the Sectional because we all pulled together and played as a team. We all pulled for each other and cheered for each other. There’s been instances where other sports have been like that at the high school, but there was never the pull and the drive by everybody on a team like there was this year.”
The winning pitcher in that Sectional title game, and the Sectional Most Valuable Player? Kyle Whitham.
Kyle says he doesn’t have a favorite sport, but notes that if people make him pick, the choice is golf.
“Your fate is in your own hands, you don’t have to worry about what other people are doing,” he says. “But then I’d also have to say basketball, too, because there’s nothing like that crowd on a Friday night, being in the gym with that packed house playing against your rivals. There’s nothing else like it.”
He also points to his dad as helping him develop a love of golf.
“I started playing golf with him,” Kyle said of his father, Kevin. “I got my first set (of clubs) when I was like four, I’ve been playing ever since, He taught me everything I know, and now I can beat him every time we play. He can’t beat me anymore. I beat him every time.”
So how does being a good teammate change from being a newcomer as a freshman to the elder statesman as a senior?
“I’ve always thought of myself as a leader on the team,” he said. “From my sophomore year on I was one of the captains on the football team. My junior year, the only sport I wasn’t a captain of was the basketball team, and that’s because we had six seniors and a lot of leadership with those guys.”
And he’s also aware that his influence reaches beyond his teammates, because he’s many times surrounded by younger children in the community after games.
“I’ve got, I guess you’d call it a fan base of little kids,” Kyle laughs. “There’s a lot of little kids who come and talk with me after games. One of our baseball coaches, Sean Cook, his kids and a lot of their friends. You’ve got to show leadership to them, too. You don’t want to slip up and do something stupid and then see them doing the same thing.”
He also notes that a big part of his success was the relationship that he developed with his coaches.
“I’ve got a pretty good relationship with all my coaches,” Kyle said. “Switzerland County has a lot of good coaches. They’re really good guys — and good ladies, too, Mrs. Wheeler, my golf coach. They do more than just coach you in the sport, they coach you in life and help you learn what it takes to be a good person, How to live your life the right way.”
But with an athlete like Kyle, Pacer coaches many times need to cooperate to keep him in the right place at the right time — because even nights of practice can be rather hectic. Ask him if he ever remembers of night during high school where he simply went home after the school day, and there’s a long pause before he remembers basketball coach Adam Dennis giving fall sport athletes a few days off before starting basketball practice. He thinks that was his sophomore year, but he isn’t sure. “I’m pretty much here all the time. One sport bleeds into the next one,” he said.
And getting to those practices takes a little bit of planning, also.
“In the fall I’d drive my car down to the football field, and football practice was right after school, so I’d go to practice until about 4:45 p.m. Then I’d jump in my car and drive over to the lockerroom and change into my soccer stuff and then drive over to practice. Soccer practice started at 4 p.m., so I’d get there about 5 p.m, Then I’d practice with the team the rest of practice, and then I’d stay after and work on things.”
In the spring, things weren’t quite as hectic, because once Kyle got his 10 golf practices in that made him eligible to play in meets, most of his time was spent on the baseball field, because of the number of games that the Pacer team plays. He also noted that there was a lot of weekend time and evenings out on the golf course playing, all of which helped him be ready for matches and the conference and sectional tournaments.
Although basketball is his only official winter sports, Kyle notes that two nights a week after basketball practice he would head out to the baseball barn to take some batting practice in the cage and then throw some bullpen innings.
And — he does all of that and excels in the classroom, earning the Senior Scholastic Award in all of his sports, as well, keeping his grade point average over 3.5.
So what’s next? Whitham will attend the University of Southern Indiana in the fall to study athletic training. He says that being around athletic trainers like Jennifer Bostic and Kodi McAllister during his time in high school has shown him the importance of working with athletes so that they have the opportunity to reach their full potential.
He may also go to USI’s baseball tryouts or take a swing at joining the golf team, but those decisions are still a while away.
So, setting the goal prior to his senior year; and now that he looks back and sees that he accomplished that goal, is there satisfaction?
“It’s weird to think that it’s over,” he says. “That’s the biggest thing. It seems like we were just at football workouts last summer, coming into our senior year; and now I’m done. It sucks, but that’s how it goes.”
And what do Whitham’s coaches say about him?
• “Kyle is a dedicated young man that is driven by competition. The more pressure he is under the harder he works. He is a bright young man with an even brighter future.” — Soccer coach Brian Grigsby.
• “Kyle’s experience on many different fields of play definitely helped him keep his calm under pressure on the gridiron,” — Football coach Ryan Jesop.
• “It was impressive that Kyle played five sports and still managed to make it to all our summer workouts and activities. Then to be as successful as he was at all five sports. It was an impressive management of his time. I enjoyed my time coaching Kyle and I think those management skills that he learned will pay dividends for him down the road.” — Basketball coach Adam Dennis.
• “Kyle is a gifted athlete and an even better person. I am proud of all of his accomplishments in all of his years at SCHS. He is very deserving. On the golf course, Kyle works hard and always gives his best. To be All-Conference for golf you have to be one of the top 12 golfers that day. Kyle has made it all three years he has played golf, a very impressing statistic. I am so proud of him and his achievements in golf and all of his sports and academics.” — Golf coach Natalie Wheeler.
• “Kyle showed strong leadership in our Sectional run. When a game was on the line, he wanted the ball. Golfing and playing baseball at the same time required a lot of individual work to keep the two different swings separated. Kyle is one of the hardest workers that I have ever coached. This will help him find tremendous success in the real world.” — Baseball coach Chad Combs.