High school football is not the problem

  • Article by: RICK SUTTON
  • Updated: July 22, 2012 - 8:06 PM

Participation in the game and other activities benefits young people.

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The Manassas Tigers, a high school football team from Memphis, are the subject of the 2011 documentary “Undefeated.”

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As an educator and high school football coach, I find much to object to in John M. Crisp's commentary "It's not just Penn State; it's the game" (July 17).

While the Jerry Sandusky/Penn State situation is abhorrent to all, and while clearly many issues exist in big-time college football and the NFL, a number of Crisp's arguments against the game itself -- and against high school football in particular -- do not reflect high school football in Minnesota as I have experienced it as a player and coach for 33 years.

Crisp cites National Federation of State High School Association figures stating that, on a yearly basis. 1.1 million high school student athletes play football, and 317,000 play through their senior year. If we break this down to players in grades 10-12, we see that a very high percentage of those who begin as high school football players continue to participate through grade 12. There is a very low attrition rate.

Crisp goes on to say that 0.02 percent (two in 10,000) make it to the NFL. His take is that this is enough to "keep the dream alive." In reality, almost all high school football players understand that they will not play in the NFL. So why do so many continue to play?

As a teacher and coach, I steadfastly support the educational mission of providing life lessons through the sport of football (and all high school athletics and activities). Study after study has shown that students involved in these activities have better attendance and higher GPAs, do better on standardized tests, and are more likely to graduate and go on to college than peers who do not participate.

I feel that a large part of this is understanding the concept of "being part of something bigger than ourselves," which many educator/coaches stress to their teams. Student athletes come to recognize they have a responsibility to and for others; the traits of teamwork, work ethic and dedication are instilled in them. These traits and qualities help them to grow into responsible and successful adults. In addition, the memories and close bonds that are formed between players and coaches last a lifetime.

Crisp goes on to write about the "dark side" of "lifelong injuries, large and small." While it is true that injuries are a part of football (and all athletic activities), I am proud to be a part of the Minnesota Football Coaches Association, a professional organization whose motto is "The Keepers of the Game." As high school coaches, we are deeply concerned about the welfare of the young men who play for us, and we work hard to teach and demand proper techniques and safety, along with providing high-quality equipment in order to lessen the risks as much as possible. The MFCA and its members work tirelessly to improve and support the game that we love.

Crisp does a great injustice in painting high school football with the same brush as the excesses of big-time college football and the NFL. Where Crisp sees "exploitation," I see the many positives that high school football brings to its participants. We must focus on the obvious differences between high school football and the elements of big-time college and pro football that certainly can be exploitative.

I encourage Crisp, and anyone with this mind-set, to spend a week with a local high school team observing the interactions both among players and between coaches and players, along with the dedication given to the pursuit of excellence. Attend a Friday night football game and see the school community come together, with the football team, cheer team, dance team, marching band and student cheering section all participating in the total experience that is high school football.

Rick Sutton is a teacher and coach at Eagan High School.

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