High school football: the higher calling.
It's Friday, around 7:00 p.m. in "Every Town," America.
The traffic is beginning to pick up on the roads leading to the small stadium nestled somewhere between the high school and the billowing smoke stacks of the busy factories.
A small group of granddads have gathered around the concession stand in the stadium. They're sipping coffee as they gaze at the freshly painted field and reminisce of glories past.
On their heads, they wear ball caps with the school's logo and colors.
On their faces, they wear the lines of hard work, wisdom, and experience.
They point to various parts of the field and exchange "remember when ..." stories of great runs, remarkable receptions, and the goal-line stand that led to the city championship not so long ago.
They watched their own sons play on that field, and their stories are embellished with each passing year. But their meaning and importance remain solid as the steel these men have forged for most of their lives.
In less than an hour, grandfathers and fathers will meet and sit together with their wives in the worn wooden stands.
All sets of eyes will well-up with pride as their grandsons and sons run out on the field to make memories of their own.
At one end of the field, the cheerleaders are giving their routines a last run through.
The student section is nearly full, complete with plenty of painted faces and youthful smiles.
The band members, looking sharp in full regalia, are stepping off the yellow buses, tweaking their instruments, and pounding their drums. Soon, they will be blaring the fight song and everyone's heart will begin pounding.
Yes, it's Friday evening in late summer. For the next few hours, personal and worldly troubles will be put on hold.
It's time for high school football!
In the locker rooms, the coaches and players on both teams are experiencing the same feelings, emotions, and butterflies.
The equipment managers have made their last check for loose buckles, worn straps, and frayed shoulder pad strings.
The trainer has taped the last ankle and is encouraging the young men to drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated.
Each position coach has huddled with his troops for eleventh-hour reminders.
The head coach has already played this game over and over in the film room of his mind.
His only concern now is measuring the players. Are they ready to execute the masterpiece that his staff has worked out after days and days of preparation?
The pre-game "talk" has been quietly rehearsed almost to the word. There will be a theme for this contest--even if it is a well-worn one. As always, it will appeal to the pride, tradition, goals, and colors of the school.
The most important message will be that for the next 48 minutes, the name on the front of the jersey will be more important than the name on the back.
Play with pride, passion, and great enthusiasm. Make every play count. And remember that every play brings you closer to life without football.
The power of those words will have a minimal effect on them this night. It will overwhelm them during the final week of the season
Many of the kids in those locker rooms will not even play tonight--nor will they play much, if any at all, during the course of the season. Yet they play every bit as important a role in the preparation for this game as any player on the squad.
They will play their "games" Monday through Thursday. Without them, there would be no Friday night game.
They will be on the sidelines, with their chin straps buckled, chewing on their mouthpieces, cheering and living every play that is called.
They will revel in the victory, or feel the pain of loss with their teammates. In either case, they will rise the next week and help prepare for the next challenge.
Eventually, some of them will get the chance to shine on game night. Perhaps it will be next year.
FIGHTING THE GOOD FIGHT
High school football coaches are knowledgeable, committed, and genuinely good people. When it comes to developing young people down to the core, only parents will have a more profound effect on them.
In today's world of single-parent and/or foster parent home environments, these coaches are often placed in the unofficial role of surrogate parents. And most of them embrace that role--accept it as duty.
While it is difficult to balance their own family lives with all the challenges of high school coaching, they face the adversities head-on. Their wives and family members are almost always team players with an awareness of the higher calling and duties assumed by Coach.
To high school coaches everywhere:
Don't get discouraged--for any reason. Whether you've been coaching for five years or 30 years, you have more of a positive impact on these kids then you can ever know.
Sooner or later, the wedding and baptism invitations will come streaming into your life. And with them will come the deluge of appreciation these young men have for you and for the way you have shaped what they have become.
One day, you will be leaning on that fence by the concession stand, sipping coffee, and reminiscing about glories past. Maybe your grandson will be in that locker room preparing to play the game of his life.
And more times than you will be able to count, former players will walk up to you, give you a hug, thank you for the man that you are, and for the men you have made out of them.
Then you will know that it was all worthwhile!
Have a great year. Win as many games as you can--but always remember that you are winning in ways far more important than on the scoreboard.
Author's note: This article is dedicated to the nation's high school football coaches, especially those in my family and close friends, and the young men who are privileged to play under them.
By Ken Mannie Strength/Conditioning Coach Michigan State University
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|Publication:||Coach and Athletic Director|
|Date:||Aug 1, 2004|
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