Archived Story

The saving graces of prep football

Published 9:06am Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Column: Pothole Prairie

Albert Lea High School football coach Max Jeffrey replied to my Aug. 14 column in his Aug. 22 letter to the editor. I didn’t write about one single program, but my column highlighted what some experts were saying about concussions in general. They wondered how football is going to save itself. I also noted that parents whose sons go out for the sport should be sure to ask coaches about their approach to concussions.

I want to say how glad I was to read that Jeffrey addressed the issue. He didn’t have to do that, but he did. And Jeffrey penned a well-written letter. He did a fine job showing just how much the Albert Lea program cares about the young athletes in their sport. A good dialogue is what newspapers are all about.

In my column I had written some background about my football experience. I went out for high school football pretty much because my small school didn’t offer another fall sport. I said at taxpayer expense I learned such things such as “numbering scheme, how to use the threads to throw a spiral, the proper way to hit a tackling dummy or even the single-wing offense.”

Jeffrey addressed that, too. He wrote, “Football taught me the concept of teamwork, how to deal with adversity, how to set goals, how to be a leader and football built friendships.”

I want to point out that Jeffrey makes a good point here, too. He is right. I want to add a few points of my own.

Learning those traits largely also depends on the coach, not merely the sport. A good coach, no matter the sport, can and will teach teamwork and other quality values. My experience provides an example: I learned those things in basketball (also from church, FFA, track, my parents and the Army) because our basketball coaches were much better than our football coaches. Heck, in football, people sometimes were drinking on the bus. It was a slipshod program. There was hazing, favorites and good performance in practice didn’t equal playing time. But our basketball program was a powerhouse. We practiced hard, wore suits on the bus, acted professionally and won a lot.

Now, that said, in some schools, it could’ve been the other way around. The football program might be disciplined and the basketball program was horseplay. The right coach matters.

I love watching football. Go Minnesota Vikings, Iowa State Cyclones and Albert Lea Tigers. There is no doubt the sport has the potential to teach boys good traits. Football is arguably the greatest team sport in that it requires good performances from the widest number of players. In basketball or soccer, for instance, one or two good players can lift the entire program. But even a good quarterback in football doesn’t result in a winning record. It takes players who find a way to gel as a team.

Jeffrey is a good coach who knows football is more than extra time after school to goof off. He convincingly wrote: “For those players that go through Albert Lea football, it’s my hope that you take away from your experiences more than learning numbering schemes, how to throw a spiral, the proper way to hit a tackling dummy or even any offensive scheme we may run. I want you to look back and hope you gained valuable life learning skills, experiences and friendships the way I did.”

That’s a good takeaway. It provides a challenge, too. That’s because another criticism people level at football is they claim it is not a lifelong sport. School is supposed to teach kids lessons they need after they graduate, right?

Track teaches how to run well, and any drive around the lake will reveal people running. It’s no secret that grown-ups play golf, basketball, swimming and volleyball, even decades after they graduate.

To me, Jeffrey sounds like he wants to make sure there are lifelong aspects his players will retain years after they hang up the pads, lessons that translate to everyday life and to personal fitness.


Tribune Managing Editor Tim Engstrom’s column appears every Tuesday.