As football begins fall training in a week, the disparity between elite Ohio High School football programs and those struggling to keep up is concerning – programs for which the competitive balance initiative did not help. And what is the hope for the future.
Defending Division VII champion Marion Local Flyers will begin fall football practice next week, along with all other OHSAA football members in Ohio.
Claiming their record twelfth state title last December, coach Tim Goodwin’s fall camp after two decades is pretty much routine. Build around the core of returning men of letters from your last title team, while supplementing with last year’s roleplayers and VJ stars. And they’ll dress 70s-80s, like they always do…with a freshman couple who demand consideration because of their talent. There will be competition for available positions and playing time. It has always been that way during the Goodwin era, and with the increase in registrations in the districts, there is no foreseeable change in the future. . Success begets success.
So it will be at Lakewood St. Edward (Div. I), Clinton-Massie (Div. IV), Kirtland (Div. V) and a host of other perennial contenders for football’s top honors. It can be argued that if Steubenville, Upper Arlington and Ironton don’t win it every year, they rarely have a bad year. And they rarely have to worry about kids playing football.
But it’s not like that everywhere. Over the past decade, there have been concerns about perennials getting stronger…as the gap widens between them and those who wonder about next year, and in some cases, worry about s there will be a next year. Hence OHSAA’s Competitive Balance initiative to level the playing field and create more opportunities. But last year’s expanded playoffs proved just how far perennials are from even the No. 16 seeds, let alone those who still don’t qualify.
Football numbers are down at many schools, especially smaller schools, and concern over concussions and CTE – the modern cultural dangers inherent in playing the sport – is just one context. regarding the decision to play. The other? Football is simply hard work – lots of sweat, commitment and, as with any sport, the payoff in the end is never certain. The culture in many communities has come to a crossroads regarding participation, leaving some schools without enough capable bodies to even practice.
Sidney Lehman has been on the fine line of football solvency for three seasons, after decades of football tradition. The Cavaliers, in numbers, are up a bit this year
But Bradford may not have enough to play at all.
There’s talk, and some planning, about 8-a-side football. Yes, right here in Ohio, where Woody Hayes once said Friday night games are as much a part of our culture as beating this team North.
And even Covington, who has a nearly 80% winning percentage over the past two decades, is suddenly struggling to be representative in 2022. At last count, the Buccaneers had just 21 players under the sophomore coach. Austin Morgan. A year removed from the program as head coach, former coach Ty Cates is even surprised at the turnaround in fortune.
“We were used to having 40 to 45 kids,” says Cates. “And my last year (2020), we could look ahead and see that we were going to be lightweight for a few years. But I never thought it would be what it is now. And I really don’t have an answer as to why, except that kids have so many choices of things to do now. There is a lot of demand on their time from other sports.
Some of those most concerned support a change of attitude on the part of coaches. The days of army boot camp discipline are over.
Gone are the days of languishing on a depth chart, waiting for your turn to play. The modern attitude is… if I don’t start, I’ll do something else.
“You need to be more sensitive and less old-school,” Cates says. “I have kids that don’t have time in the summer because of baseball and basketball, and you just have to accept that. My freshman year at Covington, my quarterback played baseball and I didn’t see him until July 15, and I was tough on him for missing so much time. Then he came out that year and threw for 28 touchdowns. I learned from that.
There is no doubt that we live in a time where attitudes about hard work, discipline, and being coached and corrected should not be taken for granted as they once were. When asked about sensitivity in Southern Ohio last week, a coach friend shared, “We were told it’s OK to correct, as long as we’re not critical. Do not be discouraged.
But it’s not football. The idea is to discourage the opponent with each snap of the ball.
“You don’t want to lose that personality of being unbeatable, with other teams feeling like they don’t have a chance when you walk onto the pitch,” says Hall of Fame coach Al Hetrick. “Because once you’ve done it, it’s so hard to get it back.”
And it’s also a natural cultural phenomenon to want to be part of something good, and schools with a sporting and footballing heritage seem to attract children naturally. Marion Local, where the average promotion was about 70 graduates, now has more than a hundred in one of its elementary classes. You build it, and they will, apparently. Goodwin could one day dress a hundred of them. The rich… get richer.
Meanwhile, the only constant in sport and culture is change. And the cycle in high school sports is the great equalizer. Class sizes come and go – the cycle gives and takes away. Which always leaves at least some hope for the future.
Because when I sat down to write this week, I reached out to a number of people closest to the facts, some retired and some still engaged. Most of them used the same words to describe football…..work, reward, patience, discipline. And in general terms, they confessed what has always been said. It’s not for everyone. There was no mention of inclusion, in any respect, which at least gives some thought as to why more aren’t playing.
For his part, Tim Goodwin has never worried about competitive gaps… or even the last title. Minutes after winning 42-7 over Newark Catholic last December, he was asked how he would savor the all-time record for titles won by a single school.
“Honestly, we’ll be thinking about next year’s team when the bus returns,” he admitted.
Meaning more work, commitmentand another challenge.
In three simple words…how the rich get richer.