Today’s the day!
Tell the kids to pack away the bats and balls and put the lawn chairs away in storage ... it’s officially the first day of the high school fall sports season.
Across the state, today is the first official day of practice for tennis, cross country and, of course, America’s passion, football.
For yours truly, this football season will be an adventure into new territory.
My first football experience was as No. 32 with the VFW Bears in the Defiance Little League. Since then, my journey has taken me up through playing in the college ranks for Carlin Carpenter at Bluffton College, yes, I’m old enough that it was still just a college.
After graduating from BC, I couldn’t stay away from the game. I returned to the place where it started, but this time as a coach for the Optimist Raiders of the Defiance Little League.
And just like my playing days, I worked my way up the ranks until I landed in Pilot country where I’ve spent the last dozen seasons on the sidelines with Ayersville High School squads.
But today, as the 2019 seasons unfolds, for the first time in decades I’m just going to be a fan.
Yep, I’ve hung up the whistle and my rolly things (my former linebackers and running backs will understand). Players will have to find me somewhere other than the practice field or sideline if they want to hear one of my obnoxious one-liners or stories.
And while opioid use is a hot-button topic these days, for me, my drug has always involved the game of football.
Having a bad day? I’d just go out to practice and forget my problems for a few hours.
Having good times and experiencing a milestone in life? I’d go out and share it with the other coaches and the players.
Football has always been therapy.
Heck, where else can you yell and scream without turning heads? And where else are you expected to hit things and each other without getting locked up?
Of course, since the gridiron grabbed ahold of me back in 1981, I haven’t always played or coached.
For several seasons, I viewed games under the Friday night lights as a reporter for The Crescent-News.
I always believed my experience on the field helped me relate to the players and coaches on a different level than your average reporter. It gave me insight to know what to look for during a game and gave me the knowledge to ask the right questions after the games.
But whether it’s been on the field, the sidelines or in a press box, football is about the relationships.
I’ve coached great players and not so great players. I’ve been around guys you enjoy and guys you can’t stand. And through it all, I wouldn’t change a minute.
The friendships forged on the field last a lifetime. When you’re part of a football team, you cannot, not make friendships and memories.
So as players from nearly 800 schools across the state partake in their first two-a-day practice today, I’m glad in our corner of the state all of our programs are still intact.
Rosters have been dwindling for years and Holgate was nearly the first casualty of low numbers.
With numbers in the low teens, the Tigers nearly had to sit out the 2019 seasons. But school officials found a way for those who wanted to play.
Eight-man football may not be what we’re used to, but it’s a trend that we may see more of in the years to come.
In my opinion, those involved in keeping the Holgate program afloat need a round of gator-clapping applause for giving their kids another opportunity to play.
At the very least, you only get four chances to play high school football. For me, I was one of the lucky ones, I got to spend a lifetime creating memories.