Before they kick off on Friday night, let’s try to put some perspective on why area football teams are out there in the first place.  And if winning is their focus, why apologize for it?  Why play if you don’t intend to win?

I will preface the 2018 highs school football season this week by sharing an email (or part of it) received Monday afternoon from an area reader – an old antagonist on the topic of ‘winning’ as shared on Press Pros, and what she calls our obsession with giving attention to those to whom much attention has already been given.

Her reference, in this case, was our recent ‘encore’ post of Minster’s 2017 Division VII title football last December, a game in which the Wildcats surprised many by the way they handled a talented, and favored, Cuyahoga Heights team…the same team that had lost to Marion Local a year earlier in the Division VI title game.

She wrote, “Once again you put winning a football trophy ahead of the neglected fact of those who struggle to gain simple human recognition.  It’s a shame, frankly, that those you choose to write about those who already start out as champions in socio-economic terms.  What you miss are the stories about those to which a  warm bed and a Happy Meal is an even bigger trophy.

“While I have no problem with sports, I do feel that you ignore the opportunity to write about those that can claim winning by the mere fact of their participating.  Instead, you write that participation trophies are a sign of weakening our culture.  I disagree, sir.  It’s a sign of a much stronger culture of inclusion and tolerance.  And I add that to whom much is given, much is expected.  You might consider that when you write your next expose’ on the perennial state champions.” … Syl

Let me add, just as frankly, that this individual, while earnest in her desire to bring light to what she calls “the forgotten”, also has a masters degree in psychology;  and has never eaten a Happy Meal in her life.  We’ve never met, but we do occasionally correspond by email and she’s a smart cookie.  She knows exactly what she’s doing when she takes a swipe at “winning”.  But “guilt trips” like that rarely produce a Happy Meal or a warm bed for anyone.  PEOPLE do that for other people, and kudos to those who do.  That’s always been a strong part of our culture, to use her words.

The OHSAA kind of fell into this culture trap a couple of years ago when it was playing those videos at the state tournament, saying winning isn’t as important as how you play the game.  I think they heard about it.  I haven’t heard those public service announcements recently.

But it has nothing to do with Minster, or Marion Local, and what it actually takes to win a state title.  That’s an entirely different argument.  Because regardless of which end of culture you live in, “winning” takes the same work, commitment, overcoming adversity, and yes, struggle, regardless of your socio-economic standing.

What the critics miss is…that hard work, commitment, overcoming adversity, and struggle, are not necessarily inherent with people.  If it were, there wouldn’t be enough helmets and shoulder pads to go around.  As it is, some schools struggled to find as many as twenty five boys this year for football.  Why?  A number of reasons, but $15 an hour to pay for your cell phone and gas is easier, and more fulfilling, than two-a-days.

What the critics also miss is that by doing those things it produces a far different adult, who uses the lessons of teamwork, hard work, and personal commitment to produce better lives for others for the rest of their lives…because there are no “selfish” winners!  Success has always been a by-product of hard work and selflessness.  It comes in different shapes and sizes, yes, but the point is…it’s a habit formed that follows people through life.

And finally, why do the work – the sweat, the lifting, the adversity and struggle – if you don’t intend a winning outcome?   That’s just as healthy as having empathy for others.

So this is why we’ll play another season, starting Friday with football.  Regardless of your station in life, you learn to be better through the pursuit of success – through competition.  Sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose.

When you win you learn graciousness and sportsmanship.

When you lose you learn to get back up, make necessary corrections, and try again.

Hard work, commitment to others, adversity and teamwork – it’s the exact answer to the critics’ issues.  Happy Meals come in many packages!