09/07/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak
If you're a fan of the game of football, what are you supposed to do these days? You're tired of all of the negativity and off the field nonsense associated with the NFL, right? Instead of being excited for the start of new season for what's ahead for your favorite team on the field, you're being bombarded with off the field nonsense instead. Deflate Gate, players involved in domestic violence, and illegal substance suspensions have already overshadowed the 2015 season that hasn't started yet.
In college football, what used to be the traditional start of the season with a game against a regional rival or maybe a big time non conference matchup has been replaced with paying a FCS team or a lesser conference team to come in and get beaten by 50 or 60 points. Tradition is a thing of the past and as a fan you long for the old days. You know, those old days when you actually knew what color uniforms your school was wearing for their game.
There still is a place though where us old school football fans can find salvage. That place is on the thousands of high school football fields across the country. And with Labor Day weekend being when the high school season kicks off in many parts of America, for many it's the place where football season really starts.
I'm lucky enough to live in Western Pennsylvania, which is a high school football hotbed. Not only am I lucky enough to live here, I'm lucky enough to cover high school football here as well. And there is nothing like a high school football Friday night. High school football is something special. It's still football being played for the right reasons. Kids play because they love to play the game. They play to be a part of a team with their friends. They're proud to represent their schools. Most of the kids who play high school football aren't playing to earn a division one college scholarship, they're playing for one very simple reason. Because it's fun.
I'm lucky to cover high school football here because every week I get to go to a different place. I get to see the traditions of each school district. I get to meet a lot of different people with a lot of great stories about games from years past. I see parents and grand parents in the bleachers who brave the rain and the cold to cheer on their kids and grandchildren. The younger kids in their jerseys cheering on their big brothers while dreaming of when it will be their time to play on that same field. The sounds of a high school band playing their alma mater. The cheerleaders. The smell of hot dogs from the booster club's concession stand. And even though field turf is the surface of choice these days, sometimes there is still a grass field. And the smell of that grass field truly is the smell of football. There really is something special about a high school football Friday night.
With the parameters of today's sports society, some of the special that's a part of that experience is being taken away. College coaches try to get commitments from star athletes long before their senior seasons. ESPN has star ratings for players and creates a culture of over exposure that high school kids don't need. Let them enjoy this experience. It's a once in a lifetime thing and a time in their lives that will only happen once. Let them play for their schools and their communities and with their friends instead of transferring to some prep school that will get them ready to play college football with the false hope of maybe one day playing in the NFL. High school football is special because it's still football at it's purest form. Let the kids play for the right reasons. How about backing off ESPN and letting the local radio and television stations and newspapers coverage be the exposure that high school kids get. How about college coaches wait until kids are at least in their senior year to get a college commitment from them. Preferably wait until after so they can enjoy that last year of high school football.
High school kids haven't asked for ESPN or early commitments, its a culture that was created by a corporate media and an NCAA that has lost it's traditional bearings for the almighty dollar. Where else can an organization make billions of dollars without paying a dollar of it to those whose performance sells the product they're making that money off of?
What makes high school football special has nothing to do with overbearing college coaches and network television. It's all of the things mentioned above. It's what those teams mean to their communities. And it's what playing for those teams mean to the kids doing it. Kenny Chesney said it best "They don't let just anybody in that club. Took every ounce of heart and sweat and blood. To get to wear those game day jerseys down the hall. The kings of school man, we're the boys of fall".
Boys playing a game for the right reasons. That's what high school football is all about.
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