Like it or not, believe it or not, the numbers don’t lie. The future of high school football at some schools in Ohio (and around the country) is in question. And the question is…is yours one of them?
(Ed. Note: When we originally posted this column last October 23, a number of people took the time to send thoughtful commentary. Some were pro, and some con. Those that disagreed universally claimed that we were just jumping on the bandwagon. Those that agreed, did so with remorse that nothing is sacred in culture anymore – that there’s nothing about which we universally agree, not even football. But NO ONE wrote and said that the points expressed aren’t as obvious as the nose on your face. And more than one asked the question about what can be done to save football? If you didn’t read it then, take the time today…on the eve of another high school football season, knowing that more than one of us wonders if our Friday nights under the lights aren’t numbered.)
I expect plenty of response as a result of this writing, not unlike some received back in September when I wrote that for the first time in my recognition…area high school volleyball this year is better than high school football.
So as the regular season is put in the books this week I’m emboldened to add to a theory that I’ve held for several seasons. High school football, and perhaps football at every level, is at a crossroads. And to that I now add, or ask…will there even be high school football at your school, as soon as next year?
People don’t want to hear this, because we’re generational, and we’re creatures of habit. We like our morning paper with coffee, wearing our slippers, and damn it, don’t tell us there’s anything different. Why change anything when life’s been just fine for the past seventy years?
But we all know that football numbers are down across the country, and many of us (including coaches) are willing to admit that the culture of football is without question threatened. “Under siege,” one disgusted coach told me at the beginning of this school year. “People forget the good things that the game of football teaches kids.”
No argument, and just about every sport you can name teaches those same lessons to varying degrees – mostly about commitment and teamwork, about sharing respect and responsibility.
But the game of football is under scrutiny because it flies in the face of today’s entitled society, one that demands safety and caution at all costs. And because of its violent nature, football is squarely in the crosshairs. And not without reason.
It’s not the same game that it was even twenty years ago. “B….S….,” I’ll hear from those poised to send me their rebuke, along with a photo of the leather helmet they wore back when they played.
But it’s not ‘BS’, because the game is played now by bigger athletes that are stronger, run faster, hit harder, and create more violent contact than they did back in the 70s.
And it’s not ‘BS” because science, which we all say we believe in as long as it doesn’t impact football, tells us now that there are limitations as to what the human body can take. And for that reason, football has to change; and we’re trying to change it, believe me.
We’re told to tackle differently, and don’t lead with your helmet (head) because you might get a concussion. But football is a game of accidents, and whether you lead with it or not the head just keeps getting in the way.
We’re toying with the idea of eliminating kickoffs, thereby eliminating the most violent of hits because of having a running start. But you also eliminate one of the game’s most exciting plays, as well…like the triple in baseball.
Don’t tackle someone by grabbing them by the collar (horse collar), and don’t block below the waist. And thou shalt not target, because no one wants to be identified with Vontaze Burfict.
We’re making the game as safe as we can, and still…people are questioning if football is worth the risk. Hence, the numbers at Lehman (23), at Springfield Catholic (15) and Bradford (13), and numerous schools (with 30 or fewer kids playing varsity football) are down.
Smaller classes have something to do with that, too, as well as the financial pinch being felt by private and parochial schools.
And then, the financial pinch of football itself, because it’s not a cheap sport to sponsor. A quality helmet is $300, not counting the cost of pads, facilities, etc. Pay-to-play in schools across the state can run as high as $500.
But regardless of the factors, I’ve seen nothing in the past ten weeks that leads me to believe that the future of football, beginning next year and over the next five, will be secure. Numbers at many rural Cross County Conference schools have declined, and it’s not just Bradford, Ansonia and Mississinawa. Even Miami East dressed less than 40 boys this year for the first time in anyone’s memory.
And some MAC schools, that once dressed 80 or more, are now dressing 50.
Some schools didn’t have enough kids for freshman and JV teams this year.
Those with the leather helmets continually remind me it’s because of the media – that damn it, if Press Pros didn’t write about issues with football they’d cease to exist. But the same people will tell you that it’s fine if the media reports on life-threatening illness, like cancer, because you just can’t have enough information when the stakes are THAT high.
So it does beg the question. If your school is one of those with numbers under 30, and no JV football, might this be the last Friday night in your community when they play high school football, or at least sometime soon? No one seems to know, because I’ve asked – in Bradford, at Lehman, and in communities where people just shake their heads and ask, “What’s the world coming to?”
Well, it’s already here, a totally different world now. Where football’s concerned it’s not just about injuries and safety. There’s more options for teenage boys than there once was. Jobs are plentiful and the opportunity to make money – COLD, HARD, CASH! They all have cars, girl friends and cell phones. And others are banking that money to help pay for college.
“Yes, but that can’t replace the memories of football with your buddies,” some of you will write, citing the ‘pussification of America’.
And football can’t replace the fun I had with the girl friend, others will say years from now. And she never yelled at me or made me run.
No, but she’ll yell at you soon enough!
A different world? Kids don’t need football anymore. Not like football needs kids, because try to remember the last time you saw one wearing a letter jacket. And think again about the question.
What do you have planned for Friday nights…next fall?