I received a phone call from the girl Thusday morning and she informed me that I was going to disown her. Now, very few offenses in lifer merit disownment, as the love for a child is unconditional – tested at times, but unconditional. So I asked her what it was she could possibly do to have herself severed from the massive estate I will leave behind, and I could not believe what I heard next.
She is going to root for Enterprise High School.
The girl is right – she can skip the reading of the will.
Her new-found affinity for my bitter high school rival is rooted in good – the Hornets recently hosted their third annual We Not Me bowl, which according to the Redding Record Searchlight, “The We Not Me Bowl gave students with special needs the chance to shine on the gridiron, from tackling to learning cheers and even scoring a touchdown.” So kudos to Enterprise – lord I never thought those words would come from me – for giving those who would otherwise not have a chance to experience the great game of football a chance to do so.
But this column is not about my disdain for the dreaded Hornets – it is about rivalry.
Going into my last high school football game I was 0-7 against Enterprise – I had lost to them four times in Pop Warner and three times in high school. They were undefeated and heading to the playoffs, and we were neither. I can still remember the local television announcer’s Thursday night prediction, word-for-word: “Enterprise will be tuning up for the playoffs and should only win by 14.”
That got my blood boiling. The next night by the time the dust settled – or in this case the fog, which was so thick by game’s end was you could not see from one sideline to the next – the scoreboard read (not that you could see that, either), “Anderson 8, Visitors 7.”
But it didn’t stop there. The Hornets were odds-on favorites to win the North Section title that year, but we punished them so badly they ended up being one-and-done the next week. That was 40 years ago next month.
When Enterprise played Manteca few years back in a State playoff game, I found out that my old coach delivered a pep talk to the Hornets prior to them making the bus ride down here and escaping with one of the luckiest wins I have ever witnessed. I was flabbergasted. I felt betrayed. Think of the coaches you know in this town addressing one of their rivals prior to a playoff game – it would never happen. That is what rivalry is all about.
But rivalry is not limited to just football. This week I had the pleasure of covering Escalon at Ripon in volleyball. When I walked into the gym, the electricity was akin to that you would feel at a championship basketball game – and this was still during the sophomore game!
By the time the varsity Indians had defeated the Cougars for the first time in five years, the respective student cheering sections had given a tutorial in what rivalry cheering is all about. All night long they were bantering back and forth, and doing so without being rude or vulgar. It was really quite a welcome relief from some of the surly attitudes I witness more often than not.
But many young athletes never get to revel in the high school athletic experience. By the time they get to the ninth grade, they have been playing sports in some cases for eight years and trust me, freshman football is not nearly as glamorous as youth football. When you step onto the field as a ninth grader, you are part of a program – you are not the focus that you have been for years.
When I played youth sports – as well as when I coached them – my philosophy was the same: preparation for the next level. That is not the case today. It is all about the here and now. How on God’s green earth can second graders be allowed to play tackle football? Or any sport, for that matter?
How many fifth-grade superstars hang up their cleats by the time they get to seventh grade? A friend of mine has a grandson in fifth grade who has played football for a few years and will not play next year because he is getting tired of it. Fifth grade is the minimum that kids should attempt to play organized sports – I will go so far as fourth grade for baseball/softball. Other than that, kids need to be kids.
I will never forget my first year coaching high school football. It was the last game of the season and I was walking around talking to the seniors about how great my last high school game was (see above). I came to one of the better players on the team and he looked depressed. I told him I understood about being depressed about this being his last game, and he told me that was not it at all – he told me that he was simply tired of football. He told me that he had been playing for 10 years and he was glad he was not going to do it anymore.
I was floored. I would gladly suit up today if I could, and this kid was happy to wash his hands of this great sport. But in the ensuing years I have come to see how that can happen when kids recently removed from toilet training begin training of another sort.
I think it boils down to having something to look forward to. I remember as a 10-year old watching the Anderson High varsity football team march onto the field silently, two-by-two. I was in awe. And then when the band played the National Anthem before the game I knew some day that would be me on that field, listening to the Star Spangled Banner.
Some day – not that Saturday at my youth football game. But somewhere along the line some parent got the brilliant idea that youth football players needed to have the National Anthem played before their games, too. So by the time kids today hear their high school band play the Star Spangled Banner, they have already heard it countless times, so it just does not mean as much. One less thing to look forward to.
So parents, do not be in such a hurry. Give kids a chance to be kids, and for God’s sake, do away with everyone getting a trophy. Let them have something to look forward to, a chance to anticipate and then relish in rivalries. It will mean a lot more to them 40 years after 12th grade than 40 years after fifth grade.
And I guess I will give the girl a pass – this time.
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