High school football has returned and in a strange twist, I have as well. Back in the 1980’s (with Journey, Bon Jovi and Cyndi Lauper on the speakers) I spent 7 years in high school. By that, I mean I covered high school football weekly as a young journalist at WJW TV 8, filing stories all over Northeast Ohio and absolutely loving it. I presented so much high school football my photographer Steve Pullen nicknamed me “Your Scholastic Reporter” …which we still chuckle about today.
As for the return, I recently joined WGCL CBS 46 in Atlanta as a contributor to their sports department and day two on the job will be being dispatched to this week’s 30th Annual Corky Kell football classic at Mercedes Benz Stadium. It’s really great season-opening football with top 300 teams and others just outside that number. Suddenly I’m “Your Scholastic Reporter” again only this time with websites ranking teams, players and spotlighting major college prospects. What an explosion of coverage making for more information and certainly a more sophisticated high school player.
Anyone who played high school football understands what Friday and Saturday nights mean. My experience at Cathedral Latin School was amazing, with games against Catholic League powers like St. Ignatius, St Edward, Benedictine and St Joseph high schools. I felt I was a very average, tall and skinny outside linebacker and back up tight end. What I didn’t grasp at the time was the level of play and talent both on my squad and on the opposing sideline. Michigan, Pitt, West Virginia, Florida and Ohio State recruits….even some future NFL talent. As it turns out, I was a lot better than I thought I was making the fulltime switch to offense at The College of Wooster (Ohio). Yes, D-III but the best damn small college football in America. I had a 3 year teammate move on to play in a Super Bowl. Did you? So stop your smirking!
As a parent, there is nothing like watching your child compete in high school football. The sacrifice, the physical toll while all the while making sure you keep up in the classroom.
The reason I say there is nothing like it is the fact that football is SOOOO hard to practice. That elbow scab is ripped off in the first twenty minutes, those pads are sweat-soaked, and there is a wear and tear that increases during the course of the season. In short, you really have to WANT to play the sport. There is no half-assing it.
Two of my sons played through high school, one as an undersized fullback/linebacker the other a 5’ 10” 210 (maybe) left tackle fending off bigger, longer defensive ends. But they both answered the challenge, and if you can overcome the idea of beating the odds on the field, it does wonders moving into college and eventually the workforce. I am so proud of them. They played so hard!
I know football is a bit under siege as ‘dangerous’ and a head injury waiting to happen, but it is undoubtedly a great teacher. Relying on the person next to you in the huddle and the most amazing measure of equality and merit. Football erases any class system and it’s more the color of your uniform rather than your skin. I swear on my father’s memory (and lover of football) the thought of race never, ever entered my mind. If you can play, you can play and I was an equal opportunity hugger among my guys. Hats off to Roy Lockett (my position coach and confidant at Wooster) and Oney Fitzpatrick Jr who taught me how to carry myself of the next level. Both African American, sadly both have left us.
Lastly , this is truly an American experience. Something we can all love and agree upon. No division, us vs them. It’s our country’s great game. And If football was the jab, just about everyone would roll up a sleeve.