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As soon as the calendar hits the first day in August, the sports calendar is officially reborn.
There’s something to be said about the great game of baseball, but despite the thrills that tournament play brings us every summer through Wilson City Little League, the long, monotonous slog associated with the dog days of Major League Baseball can wear on the psyche.
However, that changes once August arrives. High school football practices kick into high gear, and as is the case with the cycle of time each year, the countdown to that opening Friday night of the football season builds anticipation. In just seven short days, another season of highlights and memories will begin. Over the next week, the fall sports season will begin in earnest, with the Wilson Cup in girls tennis and a revised Rotary Cup in boys soccer. Volleyball, cross-country and girls golf won’t be far behind.
NFL preseason action is underway and, on the first day of September, college football quarrels will begin for the majority of the nation. In just two short years, Barton College will get in on the latter.
Indeed, we are in an annual phase of renewal that will carry us into basketball season, and will wind down once the final high school out is recorded in the spring. Then, the cycle starts anew.
As journalists, we do the best we can to present stories free from bias, fear or favor. But in this space, in the midst of this renewal, I’ll cop to one bias I can’t seem to shake: Football, particularly on the high school level, has always been my favorite.
Growing up, I lived in a community that took pride in its football program. It still does. I would read the local paper each day and week, keeping tabs on the team’s progress. In the back of my mind, I had this idea that I would give football a chance at the midget level. Even if I wasn’t very good, I’d carry on to junior varsity and finally, the varsity ranks.
However, there was one small problem. The one remaining parent would have no part of me leaving opposing cornerbacks in my wake, nor dodging “hit stick” attempts from linebackers hailing from Ayden and Snow Hill. It wasn’t so much a fear of concussions as it was other types of serious injury.
Here’s a news flash. You can get concussed on a tennis court as well. But that’s a story for another day, of a man who foolishly and willingly ignores the conventional wisdom of chasing down a lob diagonally.
But with high school football not in my immediate future, I needed a way to get involved. So I grabbed a clipboard and pen and began roaming the sidelines on Friday night keeping statistics for my high school team. I have no doubt that I was annoying to the scribes of the era. Yet despite that, most of them humored me as I demanded NFL officiating calls that were nowhere near written in the high school rulebook.
I wasn’t on the field, but I literally had the next best seat in the house. From that vantage point, I witnessed thrilling games. I witnessed conference championships. There were also the brutal losses that everyone signs up for when affiliating themselves with this beautiful game.
Football, particularly at the high school level, can be more than a game. It’s a community event, where kids from well-to-do and other homes can join together for a common purpose. In the best programs, there’s a spot for everyone who makes the good-faith effort to be there and puts forth the required work.
Seeing as most players will not continue their careers to the college and professional ranks, I offer a simple piece of advice to anyone affiliated with a program in The Wilson Times readership area.
Enjoy it. Enjoy the buildup to Friday in the school building. Enjoy the grind of practice, because once it’s over, you’ll wish you took one more repetition or lined up for one more snap in the sweltering heat or freezing cold.
Make no mistake — I’m not in the business of handing out participation trophies. Championships and accolades are earned. But no matter what the won-loss record may be this fall, the high school football experience is an enriching one.