Editor’s Note: This column kicks off our 2018 prep football coverage, which continues with a Rainier team preview on Tuesday.
Sports build character. Sports reveal character. Sports teach life lessons that can’t be learned anywhere else.
These are statements often made about participating in football at the high-school level. If you’ve bought into it, I’m sorry: it’s total rubbish.
Sports do provide a special opportunity, though, and that opportunity is where the intrinsic value lies.
The opportunity to be a part of something, the opportunity to achieve and compete, and the opportunity to run amok in an organized fashion is something unique to the high-school experience.
No, football doesn’t teach life lessons that can’t be learned anywhere else. In fact, when sifting through America’s most successful individuals — politicians, lawyers, and those who have accumulated exorbitant wealth independent of inheritance — football is rarely a part of that person’s story.
Playing football, though, is something unquestionably magical.
“There’s nothing like running onto that field under the lights,” Wahkiakum coach Eric Hansen told me last summer. “I don’t care what anyone says.”
He was right. Anyone who says otherwise is a fool.
Few have chances of playing at the next level — only 6 percent get a chance. Players play because they love it. They love the game, the experience, and most importantly, they love the competition.
That’s what football is about. All of us have played poorly at times. The best players have more tales of missed assignments or dropped balls because the best simply play more. Losses are forever remembered with an emotional sting only trumped by the loss of a loved one.
Despite the risk of injury, grueling practices and falls full of aches and pain, players continue to turn out.
“I’ve never had a kid come up to me and say ‘I was glad I didn’t play,’” Kelso coach Steve Amrine said. “You get a lot of kids who come up to you and say ‘I wish I would’ve played.’ You only get four years to play. And so my big thing is play while you can play.”
Take it from Hansen, or Amrine, or at least from the crusty 30-something covering all those games, secretly jealous he can’t be out there.
That’s what high school football is about. Not building character, not some life lesson nonsense that someone made sound good. It’s about an experience that, for most, only comes once in a lifetime.
Playing high school football is about love, and nothing else.