Saturday, July 12, 2008

The upcoming football season (& other ramblings)

It's baaaaaaack! Football season. We're fast approaching that special time of the year. Can you believe it's only about 6 weeks until we travel to Bear Creek for the jamboree? Please gear up to support the Lions with your attendance, your money and your continued hard work behind the scenes. All three are needed more now than I can ever remember.

We have a problem with our football program that many schools are having. Numbers. We've had really good teams with only one or two subs we could put on the field without sending somebody up into the stands to ask their parents if this month's life insurance premium had been paid. That's not the way things are supposed to be. Yes, we are a small 1A school, but every year there are kids wandering our halls who should be starting on our varsity football team. And it seems to be getting worse.

I've had a few people tell me it's not that big a deal. It's just football, right? Wrong. It's much more serious than that. Let's suppose that someday the deadbeats gain control and we don't have enough people to field a team. Have a look at what that means to people other than football players:
  • goodbye band, band booster club and band director. The band would be all dressed up with no place to go.
  • bye-bye majorettes.
  • adios flag girls.
  • how many cheerleaders do we have now? 20 or 25 counting the JV girls? Well, you can cut that down by about two-thirds. No need for them.
  • see ya, homecoming festivities. We've all seen "homecoming" at "basketball only" schools and it's pretty pale compared with ours, huh?
  • farewell Hub Boosters Club. Take away the 75% of the members you would lose if we dropped football, and there's no way it could survive.
And believe me, this is just a partial list of the things we would lose. After a couple of years the entire school would probably fold. When people start attending sporting events at other schools, it's just a matter of time until their loyalty, money and kids will follow.

Over the years I've talked to many, many guys who have either quit football or refused to come out for the team. Excuses? I've heard them all. Everything from "the dog ate my doctor's physical exam form" to the stone killer who went home, locked the doors, pulled the blinds and refused to answer his phone or his door. Probably the most common thing I've heard is the old reliable "I'm just not having any fun." Fun? Go join the circus, play Bozo at kiddie birthday parties, get a job at Chuck E. Cheese! Talk about missing the point! Guess what? They're right! There are things about playing high school football that are definitely not fun. Practicing in full pads up on Rocky Top in the 110 degree heat index in August, with us screaming at you and the gnats and mosquitos flipping a coin to see who gets to chew on whatever the fire ants left of you, is probably not one of life's most pleasurable experiences. It's hard to do. But the fact that it's so hard is what makes it so special. If it was easy, everybody would do it. And please, don't let them tell you it's not fun. I wouldn't take $10,000 right now for the experience of beating Ragland up there in the '99 playoffs. Ragland had scored in the 60's the week before and the Birmingham News said they were going to kill us. Apparently Cajun, John Arch, Bowles and Nick didn't subscribe to the Birmingham News. We hit them upside the head with a bag of hammers for four quarters and stopped them on 4th down inside our own 10 yard line with 12 seconds left. If that wasn't fun, there ain't a cow in Texas.

You play football for what it says about you as a person, both to yourself and those around you. It says you're a man, or on your way to becoming one. It says you can hack it--the contact, the hours of practice, the heat, the bugs, the bumps and bruises, and all the negative crap you hear from the deadbeat crowd. It says you have grit, guts, determination and the heart of a lion. That's why you play.

What can we (family, friends, alumni) do to help? Lots of things. First and foremost, encourage our guys to play. Tell them how much our school and football program mean to you. Secondly, make it easier for them to play. Help out with rides, chores, anything to help out. Thirdly, show up for them. Games, practice, booster club, whatever. It's easy to tell your kids "I love you, I care about you, I'm interested in what you do." It's tougher to drag your tired butt out of the recliner after a hard day at work to take them to practice. Talk is cheap. Last but not least, expect them to play. Many kids underachieve simply because nobody expects anything out of them.

Not everybody is cut out to play football and I hope all reasonable people can appreciate that fact. That being said, we have a lot of guys at our school who are cut out for it and just simply don't have the stones to put forth the effort. The big thing is to be involved in something. Don't be one of those people who major in doing nothing. And to you parents, just so you know...the more deeply involved your kids are in sports and school activities, the less likely they are to be out in the woods around a bonfire with some guys with homemade tattoos and self-inflicted body piercings, drinking beer and smoking ganja. Think about it.

The decision whether or not to play football is a private one. Nobody can make it for you. But know this: the results of your decision are going to be very, very public. And believe me, everybody is watching.

The Old Gray Lion