Most of my education experience has been interconnected with sports. I was a student-athlete in high school and continue to be a teacher-coach now. While I’m in my 8th year as a classroom educator, I’m in my 10th year as high school football. I began coaching JV football at 20 years old, two years before I earned my first teaching job. In fact, in 24 hours, I will have completed my first year as the head football coach of my very own football program. I am tired. Better yet, I am exhausted.
Obviously, I am a fierce proponent of high school sports. However, in my years I have encountered colleagues with a vast difference of opinion. More recently, those who oppose high school sports claim it’s a misguided use of already slim school budgets, and that it’s misguiding students’ priorities.
However, I argue that high school sports not only transform lives but save lives. I have a young man on my team who is currently a junior. He played football for my program as a freshman and sophomore; he’s a raw talent and showed promise of becoming a great high school football player, possibly even earning a shot at a junior college scholarship. There is only one problem; his grades.
Although this young man was on the team for two years, he only played 8 out of a possible 19 game because of his grades and off the field issues. Coming into his junior year, he understood that if he wanted to live up to his on the field potential, he had to change. He needed to remove himself from certain groups of friends and commit to getting better in the classroom.
During the end of his sophomore year, he did just that. My coaching staff and I even began to notice his odd transformation unfold. This young man turned into a leader. He earned the respect of his teammates, began passing his classes, and made a commitment to lead his team for his junior season. Then the unthinkable happened. In routine play during summer competition, this young man tore his ACL – an injury that required surgery and ultimately ended his junior season before it even started. It’s evident that football gave this young man a purpose. It was his reason to change. However, with his junior season over, my staff and I feared that he would revert back to his old ways.
This week is the final game of the 2019 season. This young man is still on the team and is still recovering from his injury. And although he had no chance to play this season, he kept his academic eligibility for the entire season – a feat he had yet to accomplish during his time in high school. Some may argue that this is a result of the maturation that occurs during these years. However, I know that this young man needed football. I know that it saved him, and more importantly, he knows that it saved him.