I spent the past week taking a step back into the past.
High school football season is ready to start again.
Community newspapers are all about high school sports, and football certainly has a special place since most publications produce special stories, or a special section to kick off the season.
This past week I was helping out a bit with our section and stories and found myself showing up at local football fields to talk to coaches about team pictures or picking up a roster. But the entire situation was a great reminder about my days starting to work at the newspaper back in 1973.
I managed to finish high school—just barely—and was never much interested in more schooling so college was never something I was aiming for. So I didn’t end up with a degree and found myself getting a job at the age of 18 at the Slidell Daily Times.
There was a veteran sports editor running the show and when the summer rolled around, with high school football just around the corner, he asked if I was interested in trying to cover football games in the fall. It was hardly anything I had ever thought about, but I was a big sports guy so I said, “sure, I’ll try it.”
When I think back on that situation I wonder what the heck the guy was thinking.
Here I was, an obvious hippie, long-haired kid who had very little education to speak of, and on top of that I had never considered being a writer for the paper.
Looking back on the situation I realize what really happened—he was desperate! Seriously desperate!
He sent me to cover a jamboree in Chalmette—the warm-up to the actual season for the high school teams—and with a 10 minute “training session” from the editor on how to keep statistics, I was ready to go.
I managed to get through the game without too much trouble, but I remember heading back to my house that night and wondering how the heck I was going to figure out the way to write a story. He didn’t give me one word of advice about it.
I remember pulling out one of his papers and looking at his football write-up. I looked at it, and then I came up with a few paragraphs of my own version. Then I read some more of his story, and I did a little more. I recall it took me about four hours to write that story and it was probably way longer than it should have been since I didn’t think I should leave anything out. I’m surprised I didn’t have a story about the water boy in there.
But I did finish and had a story in the paper the next week, something that would be the start to a sports career which took me to become the local sports editor, then it bumped me to become a news writer and managing editor, and now in my later years I get to head a couple of papers in St. Tammany Parish. Guess it worked out after all.
Going back to the high school fields this week and seeing the coaches and remembering what the high school scene was all about certainly brought back some memories. But more than anything I was reminded what high school sports is all about.
Prep coaches are probably some of the most dedicated, committed men and women around. I got to know dozens of them during a 13 year sports career. They put in so many hours for their kids and are certainly not paid anywhere near what they give out.
Yet I saw so many young kids who were saved by high school sports. I heard many stories about coaches who took kids in, helped them in numerous ways when they were having family problems, and absolutely changed the future of these young people.
High school sports are like a world of its own. Parents and kids who are involved in it are in a bubble, of sorts. It is an emotional, exciting time of life and it is something many of them never forget. Yet, when I stepped away from it, I realized that it is a small world of its own that many people never experience.
I did experience it for many years and enjoyed it very much, especially the friendships I developed with those coaches. They are some of the unsung heroes of our world, and most never seek any recognition for so much they do.
But one thing I know for certain, hundreds, even thousands of young people had their lives turned around and put on a track for success—all because these coaches were willing to give so much to high school sports.
It’s more important than many people think—and that doesn’t mean winning or losing.
Kevin Chiri can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.