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.

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In a culture of questions about football – safety, expense, and necessary time commitment – the good news is that there are men out there trying to make it safer, better, and to secure its place for the future.

I’ve had this column in ‘Word’ now for weeks – in fact, since the start of the 2017 football season.

And the question pertaining to this story is…is there any good news, a good report, about high school football, given the pressure of society in questioning its expense, its overall value to participants, and most of all, its safety?  Like it or not, we no longer live in a culture where people accept risk of any kind.  They want a guarantee that everything in life…is safe.

Well everything is not safe.  Ask those who went to church last Sunday in Sutherland Springs, Texas.  Of all places, we now know that nothing is guaranteed…safe!

But where football is concerned there is some good news about a game so much a part of the fabric of our state and our country that former Buckeyes’ coach
Woody Hayes once said, “We can’t live without it, and we shouldn’t live without it.  It’s part of who we are in Ohio.”

And the good news is what I’ve personally witnessed in 2017.  Area football coaches – from schools of all sizes, divisions, and levels of success – are committed to making the game better, safer, and secure for the future while imparting the age-old benefits of teamwork, commitment, and hard work.

“There’s just no substitute for those things in life,”  says Lehman Catholic coach, Dick Roll, one of the area’s most respected.  “I tell my kids all the time…that nothing good in life comes without hard work and commitment.  Nothing comes easy that’s worth anything.  That’s the lesson I learned growing up in football, and that’s what I’m sharing with the kids today.”

And the issue of securing football for the future is foremost in the minds of many of the area’s best football men, past and present.

“It’s just such a good thing, such a good sport to play,”  says former St. Henry coach and current Press Pros football analyst, Tim Boeckman.  Boeckman won four titles at St. Henry (1990, ’92, ’94, and ’95).

“All football needs is the commitment to teaching it the right way.”  –  Tim Boeckman

“Even with all the changes that people want, the game itself is good enough to be left alone.  Fundamentally, I don’t think there’s anything that needs to be changed…just a commitment to teaching it the right way – how to block, and how to tackle, how to minimize the risk of injury.  If we do that football will be a great game for a long time to come.”

And from day one of the 2017 season, the good news in the notes for this column is that coaches ARE working hard to teach football the right way.  There is a commitment – at Marion Local, Lehman, Piqua, Troy, Covington, Coldwater – and at all points around the Miami Valley, to teach the values of football while ensuring the safety of participants through proper technique.

“We stress it everyday,”  said Troy’s Matt Burgbacher back in August.  “But it starts in the weight room, where kids get stronger and able to defend themselves against injury.  You have to teach techniques properly, but you also have to train your body properly.  Our coaches are dedicated to that commitment, and our kids work very hard to learn things the right way.”

At Marion Local, where the Flyers have made a habit of winning state championships, you probably wouldn’t be surprised at the amount of time and attention given to teaching the game, as head coach Tim Goodwin puts it, “The Marion Local way”.

“We spend a lot of time, right from the start, of teaching the kids,”  said Goodwin in August.  “Even to the point of stopping practice sometimes and saying, ‘Wait a minute…here’s how we do it, and here’s why we do it.  This is how we’ve done it in the past and it’s how we expect you to do it.  We’ve done it that way so long that kids now understand the expectations as they grow up in the program.”

“We spend a lot of time teaching our kids, right from the start,”  says Marion Local’s Tim Goodwin.  “We want them to learn it the Marion Local way.”

Goodwin obviously has made the points well over the years.  In a school with just over one hundred boys in all four grades, Marion consistently has 70-75 kids each fall playing football – about 75% of its male enrollment.  Consistency is the byword, it’s paid the obvious dividends, and it’s supported throughout the Marion community.

But at other schools, like Lehman, Dick Roll doesn’t have the luxury of 75 kids, so the pressure is even greater to teach and present football in a manner consistent with the cultural expectations of this day…if you want to HAVE football.

“First, you have to have great kids,”  he says, disregarding the fact of numbers.  “You have to have kids with good character and good family values, and I’ve had that at Lehman.  Then you have to have a good staff, with people dedicated to teaching and earning the trust of the kids and their parents.  And I’ve had that.  Consistency is important, and we have done it that way every year at Lehman.  But it’s not for everybody.  We’ve actually lost kids from the program and you wonder where they’d be if they’d stayed in football.  The lessons are that valuable.”

So the good news is…that great football coaches all over the region are teaching the game in exactly the manner that Roll describes:  Bill Nees (Piqua), Chip Otten (Coldwater), Max Current (Miami East), Adam Doenges (Sidney), Tim Goodwin (Marion Local), Geron Stokes (Minster), and many, many more.  And with no irony, four of those listed here are still active in this weekend’s second round of the post-season playoffs.

“You have to have good kids,”  say Dick Roll.  “And we actually lose kids from our program.  Sometimes you wonder where those kids would be if they’d stayed in football.”

The good news is…that area kids are learning the lessons of teamwork and hard work – that nothing good does come easy – and those lessons are paving the way to solid futures through football.  Sidney’s Isaiah Bowser will play at Northwestern University next fall, while Marion’s John Dirksen will move on to play for Notre Dame.  Countless others will end up at smaller schools through the lessons learned from their high school coaches.

The good news is…that those coaches are stressing safety, proper tackling technique, proper equipment, and the OHSAA’s profile statement, “respect for the game” and opponents.

And to those who love it, there is a mutual commitment to preserve the game’s values for as long as there’s someone to benefit.  And who’s to argue…that we could all use more men like Dick Roll, Tim Goodwin, Matt Burgbacher, and Adam Doenges?

I can’t think of a single person.

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