Why they play
High school football season is upon us and no one is more excited than I. The sport has been an integral part of my life. I know there are others just like me who are chomping at the bit to get things started and enjoy watching their favorite team and their favorite players hit the field.
That said I think it’s important to answer a key question about the kids who participate.
They play in spite of heat, exhausting practice routines (year-round I might add), getting hit by big, mean opponents, and sacrificing nearly all their free time in order to be prepared for the upcoming season. They put up with ornery and hard-to-please coaches, fans who are often quick to criticize, and peers who are prepared to glorify them if they do well or crucify them if they make a mistake. They play when they are hurting and their weekends are often filled with a thousand aches and pains after a night under Friday’s glaring lights.
So why in the world would anyone with good sense subject themselves to that sort of scrutiny and aggravation?
The short answer is that they love the game for what it is. Competition, camaraderie, an opportunity to be a part of something that is bigger than themselves and a memory book full of life-long memories. It’s probably true that they don’t even realize or consciously think of all those things as game time approaches but at some point down the line they will. Believe me.
That’s the short answer, but there’s more.
They also play for the excitement. There is nothing quite like lying in bed unable to sleep on Thursday nights because of that exhilarating feeling that stirs in their guts. Sweet anticipation.
That anticipation carries over to late Friday afternoon when they may feel sick enough to throw up and their eyes may stare blankly at the wall ahead after donning their pads. The looks in those eyes will soon change to fire as they run out onto the playing field.
They play too because they are confident almost to the point of cockiness in their ability to perform and in their state of preparedness – both mentally and physically. In their youth they are totally unafraid of failure and that is a good thing. They do not yet realize that the self-assurance and the absolute willingness to work toward a goal about which they have learned is going to be a trait that will be valuable to them from now on. Believe me, one day they will understand those things.
I call these young gentlemen “the men of the arena” because they remind of something Teddy Roosevelt once said that moved me and has stuck with me throughout my life.
Read it carefully:
Old Teddy wisely said, “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit actually goes to the man in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again because there is no effort without error or shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at worst, if he fails at least fails while daring greatly so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory or defeat.”
Finally, our young men play for community pride. That pride is something that will forever be in their memory banks. The support they receive from each of you can make a huge difference in how sweet those recollections will ultimately be.
Note: Alvin Richardson is a former high school football coach who led the Morgan County program from the mid 1980s through the mid-1990s. He was also an assistant coach under the legendary Larry Campbell at Lincoln County High School from 1979-1986. Comments or questions on his columns can be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org
Printed in the August 30, 2012 edition