Give me high school football any day

I went into this past weekend with a clear mission when it came to my gridiron interests.
Knowing I would be watching three different levels of football over a three-day span, I made a point of keeping track of the differences I saw between them.
First, there was Friday afternoon’s WHSFL clash between the Muskies and visiting Daniel McIntyre Maroons from Winnipeg, which I caught in person at Fort High.
Saturday gave me the chance to eyeball on TV the massively-hyped U.S. college battle between the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide and No. 6-rated Texas A&M Aggies, followed by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers visiting the Edmonton Eskimos in CFL action.
Then it was the NFL’s turn on Sunday as I viewed my Dallas Cowboys trek into Arrowhead Stadium to take on the Kansas City Chiefs.
When I had savoured the last morsel of my football smorgasbord, I collected my thoughts and reviewed my analysis of each game—and came to a number of realizations.
The one that stood out the most was probably the one I expected the least. In all honesty, when gauging my emotional reaction to each game, it was no contest as to which pigskin experience was my most enjoyable.
Take a bow, black-and-gold.
I can hear some of you scoffing already. How could someone prefer high school-calibre football to the likes of the NCAA, CFL, and NFL?
You’re talking about the superstars of today and the stars of tomorrow, I hear you hollering. How does that even compare to watching young men from Grades 9-12 tussle on the turf at Fort High?
But before dismissing the Muskies’ variety of football fare so quickly out of hand, answer something for me. Were you there on Friday? If you weren’t, let me describe the scene.
Two sets of bleachers crammed with dozens of mostly Fort High fans, with a few brave supporters who accompanied the visiting Maroons thrown into the mix.
Dozens more fans were lounging in lawn chairs or picnic table benches, or simply sitting on the ground just beyond the sidelines. And all of them exhorting their favourites on to victory on a sun-drenched September afternoon.
For both teams, it had to lend itself to the already adrenaline-infused atmosphere surrounding two squads too close in talent from which to choose a clear favourite.
Considering I remember almost a decade ago attending games at that same field, when the Muskies’ crowd usually could be counted on both hands, it was a satisfying sign of how far community support of this team has improved.
But, you counter, the college game and the two pro games had tens of thousands more spectators filling the stands—creating a noise reaching decibel levels (in the case of the Chiefs’ game), of somewhere between a rock concert and a jet engine.
True. But the big question is did the teams they were watching really appreciate what was going on around them?
It doesn’t take too in-depth an examination to see the majority of players at the U.S. college and pro levels aren’t exactly playing for the love of the game. Last week, Sports Illustrated’s website released a five-part exposé on the alleged improprieties of the Oklahoma State football program from 2000-11.
Dozens of former players and football staff members outlined the cornucopia of NCAA, university, and just plain societal legal violations they either allege to have taken part of or witnessed teammates do the same.
Cash payments to players, academic manipulations to keep star players eligible to compete, rampant drug use, and more, which I’ll refrain from detailing in this family-friendly forum, allegedly were all just a part of making Oklahoma State an elite college football program.
And that’s just one NCAA school. Please tell me you’re not naive enough to believe this kind of illicit behaviour isn’t confined to Oklahoma State.
Where’s there’s smoke, there’s probably similar fires at an untold number of other universities.
There’s no telling how many publicly preach about the importance of academic and character development of its students while privately priorizing athletic achievement above all else for the sake of improving the school’s national reputation and financial bottom line.
Then you have those in the pro ranks who, granted, illustrate the pinnacle of football skill.
But you know what else they illustrate? The avalanche of greed which has turned the vast majority of those who suit up for big-time football into people who have one eye on the football and another one firmly planted on their bank account.
I won’t try and tell you I don’t root, root, root for my favourite pro teams. But I also know that a part of me cringes uncontrollably every time a football player—or any athlete, for that matter—professes his love for the game and the city and the fans he plays for while holding out for a better contract because he considers the scant millions per year that he’s already being paid to play a child’s game to be an insult.
What I watched on Friday in the Muskies’ game was a group of young men playing their hearts out—throwing their bodies in the line of fire and ignoring the physical dangers of what they were doing.
And not one of them profited one iota from what they were doing or off of who was watching them—save for maybe the hamburger or ice cream treat possibly bought for them by their families after the game.
It’s a longshot that any of them ever plays professionally one day, and most probably won’t even suit up for a college team. But seeing the effort they put out, it’s easy to see they’re playing not for the glory or the paycheque, but for the moment.
That’s what sports really should be all about.
Hail to the Muskies and to high school athletes in general. They’re the real champions.