Sonny Fulks
Sonny Fulks
Managing Editor

Sonny Fulks is a graduate of Ohio State University and pitched four varsity seasons for the Buckeye baseball team from 1971 through 1974.  He furthered his baseball experience as a minor league league umpire for seven years, working in the Florida State League (A), the Southern League (AA), and the American Association (AAA).  He has written for numerous websites and outdoor publications, and for the past ten years has served as a regular columnist and photo editor for Gettysburg Magazine, published by the University of Nebraska Press.  Widely knowledgeable on that period of American History, Fulks is a frequent speaker on the Civil War at local roundtables throughout the Midwest. He and wife Mindy have two grown children and live in Covington, Ohio.


Those who find a way to support overlapping sports seasons and high school football lasting 15 weeks are usually the ones who also say…we want what’s best for the kids.  Really?

Massillon – My column from earlier in the month, Some Unpopular Words About The Playoffs, drew an interesting cross-section of response from many of the typical points of view regarding high school sports…in particular, football.

There were emails, sure enough, but more…I heard from so many first-hand who at least considered my contention that the process of determining a state champion in high school football is simply too long and too taxing on the rank-in-file adolescent athlete.

15 weeks of football, the period from opening night here in Ohio to the championship game of the six respective divisions here in Ohio is a long, hard pull.  It seems too much.

And funny to me that in a culture that talks from one side of its mouth, espousing that virtuous lament of the ages, that we only want what’s best for the kids…we nonetheless support from the other side with cheers and encouragement their withstanding the violent impact of competitive football for adult entertainment and financial gain for as long as it takes to crown a champion.  This, while being years short of what medical professionals point to as their physical prime.

I have no issue with football, mind you.  I love the game.  I love the attributes of the process by which kids learn to play it…teamwork, commitment, discipline, character, and sportsmanship.

But I also say, to the derisive condemnation of those who think football above all else makes you a “man”, that what’s best for kids isn’t taking that kind of pounding for four months for the sake of a championship.

That’s simply an excuse, an invitation for another virtuous lament of the ages…that multiple wrongs doesn’t make something right.

What I said in those unpopular words about the playoffs was this.  The process, though a good one for the fact of determining a true champion on the field, should be shortened.

Yes, as some pointed out to me in their predictable objection, shortening the process by cutting the starting field in half would deny nearly 6,000 kids the experience of saying “they played in the playoffs.”

OK, but I wonder how many of those southwest Ohio teams that lost in lopsided fashion in week 1 to top seeds…Ross (53-7 to Trotwood), Taft (64-8 to Shawnee) and Westfall (63-13 to Chaminade)…are talking about it today, just five weeks after such a forgettable and humbling competitive experience?

The point is, if we’re really doing this for kids, and the credibility of a championship, go back to the old days of four teams per region and have better games and a shorter process that wraps up by the Thanksgiving weekend.

I’m not alone in my contention, by the way.  Imagine my surprise, while in the Dallas-Fort Worth area last week, to read the words of Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist Mac Engel.  His stunning headline:  Time For Texas To End The 16-Game Season!

What?  In Texas, where Friday night’s lights…are big and bright?  Deep in the heart of Texas?

Yes, apparently.  And along with that revelation, Engel another observation, and one I had never before considered.

A running back from an area Dallas High School had just completed playing in his 56th high school football game the previous Friday.  By comparison, Buffalo Bills running back Fred Jackson had just played in the his 57th game in that same time span.

One is a professional, wrote Engel.  The other is a kid.

I’m sure you can say the same for any number of Ohio high schoolers who play for perennial state finalists, or even semi-finalists…those who are approaching 56 high school games by the end of their senior season.

“Big deal,”  say the die-hard cynics whose perpetual cry following the championship awards is;  how many days now until opening night?

I’m sure there are those who say that football, as a team-oriented activity is good for the kids, irrespective of the threat of overexposure.  “The kids want to play,”  they’ll say.  “Let kids be kids.”  And, “They need the structure.”

Sure, but aren’t those the same people who insisted that those kids be in bed on school nights by 9 pm?  Please, draw the line for me differentiating fatigue from lack of sleep as opposed to lack of proper rest in the face of constant violent collisions.  Isn’t one inevitable as inevitable as another…like ordering a soft drink with lunch?

How do you want your concussion, Son?  On your feet, or flat of your back?  You get my point?

It also struck me as ironic…that Engel quoted Tim Buchanan,  the coach of Dallas-area Aledo High School, as saying, “I know a football coach shouldn’t say this, but we need to shorten it (the season) by two weeks.”

And lest you wonder, I’m pretty sure Buchanan has never heard of, or read,  Press Pros online.

“It’s all very familiar, Ohio compared to Texas,”  said Engel in an email received this week.  “You know, I was born in Cincinnati and grew up in Indianapolis, so I’m pretty familiar with the importance of football in Ohio.

“In Texas football has power to the ‘nth’ degree, because it pays for everything. Here we have what they call the UIL (University Interscholastic League, the equivalent to the OHSAA) and the vast majority of all revenues goes to that (governing body), like Ohio.  I’m sure there are salaries and an inherent need to protect the status quo.”

But the by product of that status quo is in question by some Texans, the same as it is by some Ohioans.  Sitting in an airport restaurant last week an employee shared with me the frustration of those who see football being used for far more than that which is in the best of interest of the kids.

“I played football in high school 30 years ago,”  said David Wirth, from nearby Arlington.  “And I can tell you that it’s not the same game it was then.  What they’re asking kids to do now for the sake football borders on obsession…like total control and monopoly over a kid’s life.

“You work out all year, you attend camps, you play the season and the goal is to make the playoffs.  If you make the playoffs and you’re successful you play up through the beginning of December and the start of basketball season.  As soon as the season’s over you start preparing for next season.  And they do it because there’s so much money at stake.  If you don’t believe me go over to Cowboys Stadium this week and count the heads at $20 a throw.”

To be sure other states have seasons that overlap basketball and raise the same questions as those in Texas and Ohio.  Florida, California, and Pennsylvania, for instance, all have seasons with a maximum cap of 15 games to determine a champion.

But everything is bigger in Texas, they say.  Hence, sadly, they trump the field by one additional game…16.

“The state is so big,”  says Engel, “with so many schools.  Now I’ve been told that the state will shortly add a 6A division (for better parity among the smaller schools).  But that won’t mean fewer playoff games, and it won’t avoid football running over into basketball and basketball running over into baseball in the spring.

“And now we have 7 on 7 spring football, so we’re losing more and more kids from baseball every spring.”

There’s an old saying among people in Texas…that you can always tell a Texan, but you can’t tell him very much.  Now, people in Texas have turned the tables on that adage ever so slightly.

“Where football’s concerned you can talk until you’re blue in the face,”  says David Wirth.  “But that doesn’t mean that anyone’s gonna’ listen.”

After all, they’re just doing what’s best for kids.