The Importance of High School Football
High school football is important to those for whom this narrative is directed. The followers of, and posters on, EasternPAfootball have, in the majority of cases, shown to have a keen interest in Pennsylvania high school football.
And there is no doubt that it is important to many young men and their parents for various reasons including the building of character it can inspire; in some cases a chance for college financial aid; and in the far lesser number of cases, a possible lucrative professional career.
These are not the topic of importance that I am referring to in this article. My main topic is my take on the importance of high school football within various schools’ themselves. And how that importance is critical to building the football programs we see out there. I do have some secondary thoughts on the importance of football and the youth today as well.
As with much of my ramblings that I foist on the willing or reluctant reader, I confess that I have not been involved within any school system to give an internal insight. I have not played high school football, coached, or ever had ‘skin’ that did. I am simply a fan of the sport for 64 years now. I write from an external perspective and for the reason that I love the sport and hope to garner additional thoughts from others on the subject. As always, I am open to ALL thoughts and comments.
We all know that the primary purpose of our high schools is to educate the nation’s youth and prepare them for further education and/or a place in society. We all know that all schools do not get the job done in an equal manner for many complex and sundry reasons. That subject is for people with far more education and experience with it than I possess.
The end result is that our high school football is one of a myriad of sports or extra-curricular activities made available at, according to the PIAA, 578 schools in Pennsylvania right now. While it is important to rabid fans such as we are, it is important at many different levels in those 578 schools. And from all the reading and publicity that I have heard and seen, in Pennsylvania it is less important than at many high schools in California, Florida, and Texas, for three examples. (And certainly at some New Jersey schools that are familiar to EPF readers).
As I cannot begin to perceive how a particular school administration could even attempt to make one extra-curricular activity “important” in a school system, let me use the examples that I have lived through, or been close to and observed, to demonstrate my feeling on the subject of the importance issue at high schools. Most of you know by my earlier articles that my experience is in the lower and central Bucks County area to the greatest degree.
When I began to follow high school football in 1951 the sport was just about universally important to every high school that played it; and 601 high schools in PA were then playing it. In that era most high schools had four primary boys’ sports – football, baseball, basketball, and track. Many athletes in all size schools were three or four sport letter-winners.
Some schools also had wrestling, gymnastics, and soccer as well, and ice hockey was especially prevalent in the upper mid-west; but football outdrew all other sports for followers, and before band competitions became prevalent, football games were the high school bands’ primary function, along with an annual concert, and parades during the year.
The first importance of football beyond my normal alma mater passion was noticed by me at Neshaminy, in the late 1950’s. By 1952 the Redskins had added powerhouse Ambler (now Wissahickon) and Royersford (now Spring-Ford) to their schedule and went 9-1, losing only to Ambler 25-7. Before long, Easton, Allentown (Allen), and Pennridge were on the docket.
And Neshaminy’s choice of coaching personnel also revealed the importance they attributed to their high school football program. Harry Franks was a Wilson (West Lawn) product. I do not think Wilson was the power then that they are now, Reading-area fans correct me if I am wrong; but the late Harry Franks for whom the Redskin stadium is now named, was a dynamite coach. From the Carbondale High School staff Jack Swartz came to Neshaminy. John Petercuskie came from Old Forge High School. And from Blakely, at one time the highest-winning average school in Pennsylvania; came Peter Cordelli. There was no doubt about the prowess of coal-country football in those days, and Neshaminy was surely making football important with their coaching choices.
Then in late 1962 or early 1963 the Neshaminy N-Club (adult support group) published a little booklet that bore the wording on the front, “Time will never dim the glory of the Neshaminy Redskins”. The booklet detailed the 11 seasons 1952 through 1962 in which the football team annexed 100 victories to 11 defeats and 4 ties. Included were four undefeated seasons and the fact that during that period only a single team beat the Skins more than once, (Easton, by 13-7 twice). The rosters and records of each individual team in that period were included in the booklet. Many names from the booklet are on the Neshaminy “Wall of Fame” which can be seen in the football stadium at Neshaminy.
This just seemed to me to point out a means of stressing the importance of the sport at one school. I am sure that the school administration devoted time and effort to all of the school’s sports, but they had to ok this publication too, and football was important at Neshaminy.
In the 1950’s shopping malls were only starting to become big and popular, rock and roll as the pop music was still fairly new, there were no cell phones, no I-pads, no PC’s, no X-boxes, no game boys, what-have you, etcetera, ad infinitum.
All teens did not automatically get vehicles as soon as they could drive. All high school activities were important for the sheer lack of other activities as a general statement. Like school or not, good student or poor, school and school-related activities were a big part of a teen’s life in the 1950’s.
Any of us with age, and even the younger set, knows that massive changes have occurred and occur with a seemingly increasing rapidity.
I think the many changes have played their part in our picture of high school football, and its importance today; as the many changes have affected everything else. The importance of high school football became enmeshed with the importance of a thousand other things as well. Our favorite sport had to have taken a hit. To just ‘make the team’, especially in football, was very important in the 1950’s.
Much of the vast change I did not immediately notice because I had a life experience situation where I was not totally away, but only nominally involved, with high school football in two periods, 1966 through 1975 and 1979 through 1984. To me, reading the papers about the games, or listening to them on the radio, it was still the 1950’s.
I got back to the sport, first sparingly in 1985, and then very heavily starting 1987. In the 1990’s I began visiting high school football pre-season practices and getting to know and talk to coaches. This greatly educated me in many ways about our high school football programs.
I soon felt that to have a successful program, and by that I mean the power football program success, football had to be deemed important at a school. I also believe that there are many levels of success, and many schools judge that level of success with degrees of importance because we know that currently there are only 4 champions per year and only 8 teams get to vie for the title per year. There has to be many levels of success outside of the big prize per school per year. Examples are league championships; a first trip to the playoffs; district championships; city championships; beating a major rival; big improvement in a program’s win-loss record; even just keeping the games close when the program has been way down. While we know there are no moral victories per cliché, there are reasons for rating a team’s season in ways other than wins-losses or a state title to promote growth and morale within the system and to reward individual effort.
When I did get back to high school football with a passion in 1987, I jumped on the bandwagon of Central Bucks West and in the 1990’s at a distance, Berwick. I make no apologies for being a bandwagon jumper; I had discovered what it was like to follow excellent football programs and watch the efficiency and skill with which they played. I still went to other school games and thus supported other schools as well, and saw good games and talent at those also. But, in CB West and Berwick I chose wisely.
This led to my greatest decade, the 1990’s when I did the pre-season camp visits to schools, traveled farther than any other era for games, got to more new stadiums, saw more new teams, saw more good programs, and saw my first playoffs; I only lacked seeing a state championship in person. This I rectified in 2002 and 2004.
I talked to a local coach in the 1990’s about his school’s program. He leveled and said that the school administration did not care whether the team wins or loses, but only that all the participants give effort, and maintain composure and proper discipline. Proper behavior was more important than a win or loss. Isn’t that a refreshing idea with this year’s A class fiasco?
This school was usually an above .500 performer in football, had smart kids, did not lack effort; but the administration was not going to get all bent up by a loss, and the coach’s job was secure from that viewpoint. The coaching staff was good and seasoned, but football was just another of many sports at the school, and how the players represented their school and families the chief issue.
At another school it was rumored that to a degree, football ran the school. The football program lacked for nothing. Wins came consistently. Football was of tremendous importance. Even before coaching changes caused the program’s consistency to be in limbo, it was also rumored that the administration was tired of the heavy football influence and wanted it to end. Obviously, the football program was to rule the roost no more.
I thought to myself; within how many schools does this conflict occur? The administrations’ have to operate many sports today, how can one become important; financial considerations are one big constraint; or perhaps financial gain is a reason to elevate a sport to importance.
I live in the Council Rock School District, the CR North portion. Rock is an extremely prestigious school system. It is highly rated whenever a rating is published for academic standards. In a recent national and state ranking by Niche.com the Council Rock district ranked the highest among school districts in Bucks and eastern Montgomery Counties. (1)
The ranking indicated exceptional teachers, sufficient resources and a diverse set of high-achieving students. Council Rock ranked 7th in the state and 77th nationally. Stay with me, I have a football point.
Council Rock North had an excellent QB this season, he just committed to South Carolina; also a fine running back, and sufficient numbers, although not in excess. They were a little undersized physically, especially on defense, and the season ended 6-5 with a first-round exit in the playoffs. I think this was disappointing by public pre-season’s expectations and the fine QB.
Rock North’s current PIAA enrollment number is 688 male. That is in the range of St. Joes Prep at 717 male. Is there a difference in the importance of football at these two schools? I do not pretend to know the answer for sure, but can offer the following about Rock North.
Rock offers in men’s sports – baseball, football, basketball, bowling, cross country, golf, ice hockey, lacrosse, soccer, swimming, tennis, track, volleyball, and wrestling. In addition the school has 62 student clubs as diverse as Art Forum, AIDS Awareness, Chess, Future Doctors of America, Doctor Who, Debate, Fashion, many other community activity and awareness clubs; along with ultimate Frisbee.(2)
How important can football BE???? As applied to both the school and one particular student.
Students here; and I am sure the same at many other schools, have so much to do besides basic classes and study that one has to be really dedicated to football to put out the maximum effort. There are so many interests to pursue in school and out, that football as any one of many other pursuits has to suffer as a consequence.
I really think that today, the many available pursuits in and out of school keep potential football players in more scare supply than years ago; at least at some schools. I am talking suburban public schools here as that is what I know and what I am close to. The D12 guys that post on this site have educated me to a degree on the City and PCL schools, and I think we all agree that there are great differences between outside, and inside, the City of Philadelphia in ways of high school football.
I do not know when the impetus of soccer became widespread and schools rapidly added soccer to their programs, but it has been in my time.
I thought this drained a lot of possible talent from high school football, but some folks think it is more a youth activity than a drain on high school football. But even so, the youngsters playing soccer are not gaining the football skills at a young age. If they do drop soccer and convert to football in high school they lack a lot of the basic football skills, other than kicking of course. Speed is speed in any sport.
Then we have the concussion problems, the most recent factor that might possibly keep parents questionable about which sport their child should play. No one can blame them for their concern there.
And, an observation; when I was younger every vacant lot, or park, or dormant athletic field had pickup football games, basketball courts pickup games, baseball fields the same. Before I retired in 2003 I would drive through development after development after school hours or weekends and noticeable was the lack of youngsters outdoors. Those fields were empty. Rarely now do I see, or hear, kids playing outside. The City might be entirely different, I don’t know. But it seems that indoor attractions are greater for the youth of today.
From time to time I worry about the future of my favorite fall pastime. While most schools at the AA level and above seem to have numbers on the sidelines (that I have seen), some small schools may not be able to field a team anymore. And some big schools suffer from poor turn-outs year-to-year. Among the 4A coaches I spoke with in the 1990’s, one indicated, “We just don’t have the numbers to be competitive in this league”.
It does not seem to be such a big deal to play for your high school football team anymore, except for the dedicated few that like the sport or possibly perceive a college scholarship and a real gain in it. I wonder about the importance on an individual level as well as the school administration level. And just before the 2014 championships I stumbled across an article that was titled “Shocking Survey Shows that Most Americans Would Not Want Their Kids to Play Football”. It appears to be on Yahoo Finance – Business Insider. It states that 50% of surveyed parents said they would not want their child to play football. The article further cites Bloomberg Politics as the survey source.
The article goes on to say that those parents with college education and salary ranges over $100,000 are 62% negative for their child playing football. While the article taglines that this is bad for the future of the NFL, a photo with the article shows high school players, so it is talking about the progression from high school up.
I am buoyed each season by the A and AA schools that make Hershey and I see how good they can be and what numbers and physical size they display. I know the AAA and AAAA teams that make Hershey will have these assets no question. But this is 8 schools (now) out of 578 and I know football is important to all of them; but how far down the line does it go?
The purpose of this article was to add my take on the factor of importance to all of the other factors that make up a good football program. I think it has to be important to the school administration and the community, where applicable. It has to be important to ALL the players that come out for the team. The importance to the coaching staff and talented players must be assumed, although the level of execution may vary among said staff and players.
I would love to hear what anyone has to offer about their ideas on the importance, and future, of high school football in our state.
(1) Information from Bucks County Courier Times 11/12/14.
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