THAT'S LAUDERDALE

Going long: High school football 'not just a game'

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comAugust 22, 2013 

File: Whale Branch and Bluffton get the high school football season started Aug. 23, when the Bobcats visit Whale Branch.

THE BEAUFORT GAZETTE

High school football season opens Friday across the Lowcountry. Here's why you should care.

They'll be drop-kicking footballs through the goal posts of life Friday night when the lights click on at soggy high school fields across the Lowcountry.

In truth, nobody intentionally does the drop kick anymore. But the goal in the grit, spit and blood of high school football is still more about life than an oblong leather ball. And when the scoreboard clock flashes all zeroes, the game is not over.

That's what my friend Tim Stevens says. This will be the 46th season he has strapped on his pens and pencils and pads and squinted into the dark corners of a poorly lined field to write newspaper stories about high school football.

Tim and I worked together years ago at The Raleigh Times, the late and lamented afternoon paper in North Carolina's capital city. He was part of its merger with the rival News and Observer, where former editor and Island Packet co-founder Jonathan Daniels did his share to make the locals call it the "Nuisance and Disturber."

In a column this week about the honor of covering high school sports, Tim wrote:

"No other level of athletic endeavor has as its primary focus the creation of better people.

"There is something fantastic about allowing a group of students to represent their school, their community, their family and themselves in something meaningful."

I called to ask: What's so meaningful about it?

"In society, where do we teach self-sacrifice, hard work toward a goal, dedication, team over self?" Tim asked. "In sports."

Football teaches that life isn't fair, he said.

The team that works the hardest doesn't always win. A referee blows a call. The ball bounces funny. A 5-foot-8 kid may be the most dedicated player on the team, but it's not in his genes to whip a 6-foot-4 guy who barely tries.

"Life's not fair," Tim said. "One person gets cancer, and another doesn't. People are losing jobs through no fault of their own, but the industry says you've got to go. It's not fair. A football player can learn how to deal with that early in life."

The game teaches that sometimes your best isn't good enough.

It teaches accountability -- to be where you're supposed to be, when you're supposed to be there.

And where else but the high school football stadium do people come together as a community, especially in the era when neighbors don't know neighbors?

When it's done right -- which Tim said is not always the case -- coaches can help kids acknowledge bitter hurt, but then set the impetus for the next step.

This is more important to society than Super Bowls and NFL paychecks, Tim said. "You can buy a hotel room, but that doesn't mean you can sleep," he said.

He made me want to grab a helmet and run the flea-flicker.

"It's not just a game," Tim said. "It's life."

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.

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