You Can’t Go Back

unclerico-napoleon-dynamiteThere isn’t enough football in Napoleon Dynamite for it to qualify as one of my favorite football movies, but it is definitely the best movie ever that mentions “delicious bass.” One of my favorite scenes (there are so many to choose from!) is football related. Uncle Rico is sitting with Napoleon and Kip and they are watching a video he made of himself throwing a football. No receivers – just him with that classic headband zipping the ball around the prairie. Kip seems neutral; Napoleon proclaims it the “worst video ever;” and Uncle Rico is almost mesmerized with his performance when hearkens to his high school playing days and pines, “Ohhhh, man I wish I could go back in time. I’d take state.”

This is especially hilarious to old(ish) guys like me because we all have a little Uncle Rico in us. There isn’t an ex-high school athlete (except for those very few who went onto greater athletic glory in college or the pros) who hasn’t thought back to their playing days and wondered what could have been. “What if I could go back and play that game (or season) again?” I admit that I’ve done that plenty of times – I just never filmed myself as a 30- or 40- or 50-something wannabe athlete re-enacting my youthful sports life.

Here’s a memo to current high school athletes everywhere: you can’t go back. Do it now. Whatever you have dreamed; whatever you have worked for; this is your time.

Especially you senior football players. Forget your first three years. Maybe you played a lot; maybe not. Your team may have won tons of games and maybe they have been terrible. It doesn’t matter now. All you need to care about is the now.

Don’t worry about next year. Maybe you’ll be in college this time next year and maybe you’ll have a job. Forget about it. All you need to care about is the now.

What you and your football team do over the next few weeks is all that matters. From the starting quarterback to the freshman on the end of the bench, now is the time to grab the glory. Make the memories you will never forget.

Week 9 will be a beginning for half the teams that move onto the playoffs while it will be the end for the other half. A lot of seniors will play their last game ever on Friday. That may not dawn on you right away, but it will soon enough. So if you were ever going to play like it’s your last game – you need to do it Friday night. Don’t waste this opportunity to be great. Even you underclassmen. Your last game will come sooner than you think, so make the most of week 9 – and every game – while you still can.

Only six teams will raise championship trophies on the floor of the UNI-Dome. Every other team will end their season with a defeat, and it will taste bitter. If your team isn’t one of fortunate few that will be celebrating, just make sure you go down knowing you gave it your best shot. Don’t be Uncle Rico 20 years from now saying, “Yeah…if Coach woulda put me in fourth quarter, we woulda been state champions. No doubt. No doubt in my mind.”

Woulda, shoulda, coulda doesn’t cut it. Do. Leave the field with no regrets. Because you can’t go back.

Advertisements

Use Your Head

helmetInevitably, high school kids will get into a little (or a lot) of trouble. A popular phrase I’ve heard thrown around a time or two is “to be old and wise you must first be young and stupid.” So true. “Experienced” folks like me were young once (some longer ago than others), and we have all been guilty of varying degrees of stupidity. The young thing wears off naturally – and hopefully most of us grow out of the stupid.

But (and this really makes me sound old), times are different from when we were in high school. There’s a lot of bad stuff out there these days, and when kids are out of school or out of the house, they have to use their heads.

I heard one of the most interesting theories about helping keep athletes out of trouble from Bob Lape, head football coach at North Fayette Valley. He told me once, “One thing I learned a long time ago — don’t do anything that’s going to embarrass your mom. That’s what I always tell the kids. I grew up with that. I tell my own kids that; I tell all the kids I coach; I even tell all the kids in school — don’t do anything that’s going to embarrass your mom. You don’t want that.”

Absolutely not. Think about that one as it applies to you, your wife or your mom. Moms don’t play.

One of the best things about high school sports is the kids are so busy practicing and playing, it limits the time they can go out and get into trouble. And the discipline and effort needed to perform well is hopefully teaching kids the right way to go about their business and they are applying that to their lives away from the athletic fields.

But kids being kids, they will find trouble or it will find them eventually.

Two schools in Iowa that deal specifically with kids in trouble are Clarinda Academy and Woodward Academy. Established in 1992, Clarinda Academy is a residential foster care facility that provides residential treatment and shelter care to at-risk and delinquent male and female youth. Woodward Academy, established in 1995, is a residential treatment facility for male youth. They are both owned by Sequel Youth and Family Services, a privately owned company that develops and operates programs around the country for people with behavioral, emotional, or physical challenges.

Sports are an important part of what both schools do to positively affect the lives of their student athletes. They have enjoyed success in many of their programs, and especially with powerlifting – which I didn’t even know was a high school sport.

Winning at football is a little tougher at both schools. Consider that most kids are only there for a short time. Depending on the specific program he is in (both schools offer similar programs), a student may only be there for 90 days, or up to 12 months. So the coaches are basically starting over with an entire roster every season. That is a little easier with the sports that require fewer players and/or a smaller playbook. But trying to get 11 guys on offense and 11 guys on defense up and running every year and having to take on some of the best teams in the state is a rugged task.

Clarinda Academy is winless this season and takes on a scrappy Earlham (4-3) team at home, while Woodward Academy is 1-6 and has the distinct “opportunity” of hosting Madrid (5-2) tonight. Both will be underdogs and, frankly, both games might end up a little lopsided, but the gains and successes made in these programs can’t truly be measured on the scoreboard.

Buy The Fields of Fall
Across the state of Iowa there are towns where high school football is less a game and more a way of life. Bigger schools certainly have their traditions, but in some of Iowa’s smaller towns, football is the heartbeat of the community; a center of activity; an object of intense passion for both the school and the community as a whole. In these football epicenters the game has been turned into an art form, young men who excel at it become local heroes, and winning is second nature—but never taken for granted.

Not only are the young men in these towns learning the game of football, they are being taught valuable life lessons that will pay dividends long after their playing days are over. By teaching their players how to work effectively as a team and the importance of dedication, sacrifice and discipline, coaches are primarily concerned with developing the character of their players—and thus winning football games becomes the result.

The Fields of Fall follows several of the best known football dynasties in Iowa—as well as some lesser known programs—for an entire year. The book is an enlightening and entertaining ride through the 2010 season; dissecting the teams’ philosophies on football, education and life in general; and telling the stories of the people and the communities that make high school football in Iowa so special. The Fields of Fall captures the emotional power of the game as it details the teams’ journeys through a season of incredible highs and corresponding lows—and describes the sheer fun that everyone surrounding the game was having.

Week 7…already?

7For returning letterman and wannabe starters alike, summer is a time for dreaming those sweet dreams of football glory by night and toiling long hours in the weight room and beyond by day. By the end of training camp and late summer practices, the kids are ready to hit people other than their teammates, and when week one rolls around, they get their chance. As the players take the field for that first game, anything is still possible. Optimism abounds and there are no crooked numbers in anybody’s loss column yet.

Most teams have at least two non-district games and coaches can use these first couple weeks as a “pre-season” to get everything (or most everything, hopefully) figured out. Once the district schedule starts and the games “count,” the intensity is heightened.

By week seven, the sheen of the new season has worn off and teams have established their identity. The grind of the first six games have taken their toll physically and mentally. For some teams, the season that was so full of hope and promise just a couple months prior has spiraled down, and their work has resulted in limited success on the field. Others have racked up enough wins to feel good about their chances of making it into the top four spots in their districts to advance to the playoffs.

Other teams are steamrolling though their seasons like the ’72 Miami Dolphins. As the Iowa high school season enters its seventh week, a total of 31 teams in the six classes are still undefeated. (Eight in 8-man; six in Class A; six in 1A; six in 2A; three in 3A; two in 4A.) Additionally, 32 other teams still have an unblemished district record, which, of course, determines playoff seeding. (Twelve of those teams are in 4A, which have only played two district games so far.)

That’s a lot of teams that are still feeling good about that goose egg under the “L,” but week 7 is going to be the beginning of the process that will whittle that number down over the next three weeks of the regular season. Thirteen games will be played around the state Friday between teams with undefeated district records. “Just another game” isn’t the case anymore when the top spot in the district and preferred seeding for the playoffs is on the line. Here are those games:

matchups

This week the great teams can start to separate themselves from the good ones. But week seven is compelling for reasons other than playoff positioning. Week seven is mile 20 of a marathon; the fourth quarter of a company’s fiscal year; the final night of studying before an algebra final. Mustering the courage to complete anything difficult isn’t easy, and whether a team is headed for the playoffs or destined to lose every game, how it finishes a season says a lot about its character.

Buy The Fields of Fall
Across the state of Iowa there are towns where high school football is less a game and more a way of life. Bigger schools certainly have their traditions, but in some of Iowa’s smaller towns, football is the heartbeat of the community; a center of activity; an object of intense passion for both the school and the community as a whole. In these football epicenters the game has been turned into an art form, young men who excel at it become local heroes, and winning is second nature—but never taken for granted.

Not only are the young men in these towns learning the game of football, they are being taught valuable life lessons that will pay dividends long after their playing days are over. By teaching their players how to work effectively as a team and the importance of dedication, sacrifice and discipline, coaches are primarily concerned with developing the character of their players—and thus winning football games becomes the result.

The Fields of Fall follows several of the best known football dynasties in Iowa—as well as some lesser known programs—for an entire year. The book is an enlightening and entertaining ride through the 2010 season; dissecting the teams’ philosophies on football, education and life in general; and telling the stories of the people and the communities that make high school football in Iowa so special. The Fields of Fall captures the emotional power of the game as it details the teams’ journeys through a season of incredible highs and corresponding lows—and describes the sheer fun that everyone surrounding the game was having.

The 300 Club

30aCoach Randy Hinkel of Madrid has been a head football coach for 34 years, so it’s not very often that he’s the “young whippersnapper” on the sidelines. But that will be the case this Friday when his Tigers take on the Gaels of St. Edmond of Fort Dodge, led by 84-year-old Dick Tighe, now in his 61st year as a head coach. Tighe has 428 coaching wins to his credit, while Hinkel has 306 – so it’s an intriguing matchup of coaches who are members of the coveted 300-win club.

Matchups of coaches who have achieved this milestone are rare, but less unusual in Iowa than in other states. Of the 113 coaches in the U.S. who had reached 300 wins by the end of last season, 11 of them are Iowa coaches. My math skills aren’t great, but even I know that that’s almost 10 percent. Not bad – and it certainly speaks to the quality of football coaching we have here. Tighe is 9th on that national coaching wins list while Hinkel is 104th. Also members of the 300 club are Jerry Pezzetti of Ankeny Centennial and Gary Swenson of West Des Moines Valley. When their teams hook up in week 8, it will be the latest in a matchup that has occurred almost annually for the past two decades.

Even with the legendary coaches calling the shots in The Jungle in Madrid on Friday, it will be the players that take center stage. Since going to the Class A title game in 2010, Madrid has had a couple of lean years by their high standards. But having been bumped up to 1A this season, the Tigers are off to a fast start with a 4-1 record.

St. Edmond’s only blemish last year was a loss in the 1A title game to Iowa City Regina. (Hardly a reason to fire the coach!) This year they have dashed out to a 5-0 record and are currently ranked third in the state.

Both teams are piling up more points than a lot of basketball teams. St. Ed is averaging almost 41 points per game while Madrid is scoring 39. And both teams are getting to the end zone in a similar manner – via the run game. Madrid’s rushing heritage is legendary, and they are living up to it this year by leading all Iowa classes with 2,095 yards. St. Edmond is second behind the Tigers in class 1A with 1,625 rushing yards. Interestingly, both teams are also together at the very bottom of the 1A passing statistics. The Gaels have attempted just 17 passes in five games; the Tigers only 12. But when your stable of running backs can average seven or eight yards a carry, why pass?

This game is also a critical District 7 matchup. When the districts were announced last winter, the coaches in this one probably cringed when they first had a look. It’s loaded with perennially good teams, and six out of the seven teams currently have overall winning records. In the current “extra round” era when mediocre to just plain bad teams can still make the playoffs, a quality team might actually get left out in this district this season. Madrid already has a district loss, so this game is especially significant to them.

Something will give when these two giants meet Friday. One defense will bend too much; there will be a critical turnover or two; an unsung kid will make the play of a lifetime. Just don’t bet on either of these coaches to screw something up.