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Time off can be a good thing

When I first heard about the Oregon School Activities Association’s Moratorium Week, I had to chuckle.

I’m sure most of you know exactly what that is — a full week during the school year, one that comes at the end of July, where coaches are not allowed to have contact with athletes.

I’ve covered high school sports for a long time and in many different states, but I had yet to come across anything like this. When I was in high school in Texas, we had a similar thing we called summer.

To us, summer was what summer is supposed to be, a time away from school and everything that goes with it. There was no homework, no boring lectures and no practice.

In Texas, there was basically no contact between coaches and athletes outside the duration of their chosen sport.

Once basketball season ended, it was over. Period.

Same for football. If your team didn’t make the playoffs, you were done. Once you lost in the playoffs, season over, literally.

From that moment on, until August, there would be no coaching, no practices, no games. There was contact, but only in the form of coaches running off-season weight programs, agility drills and running us to death.

If a coach dared to show us one football-related move or talk to us about a defensive philosophy, the University Interscholastic League, the governing body of Texas high school athletics, and a major NCAA want-to-be, could come in and rule your team ineligible for the next season’s playoffs.

It was strict and just about everyone played by the rules; you really had no other choice.

So we, as high school athletes, did what came naturally and became high school kids for two and a half months.

We showed up at the school three times a week to lift weights, which was allowed, but we couldn’t talk about football, or any other sport, with any coaches. We also hung out, swam, went on vacation and just tried to be what we were — teenaged kids.

I have always thought that was the best way to handle things, especially for those of us that were part of the Odessa Permian football program of the 1980s. Growing up in a town that took its local football more seriously than it did religion — and in Texas, that is saying a lot — everyone needed a break from it.

The pressure to win a state title was immense and constant. And it started, at least for my senior class, when we were 5 years old.

By then, the program had already won its first state title, just six years after the school opened, and had appeared in two other title games. We were being groomed to win state before we even started grade school.

I know the coaches felt the pressure — their jobs were solely based on the number of playoff games they won, or lost — but so did we. The thing that mattered most, for your entire youth, was winning state your senior year.

But the powers that be, mainly the UIL, made it pretty hard do it with its offseason practice rules.

And maybe that what makes me chuckle so much about the way things work these days in the era of seemingly year-round sports.

Kids today get a week off. At least they are forced to take a week off.

The evolution of the year-round sports scene bothers me in so many ways.

First, it has pretty much killed the super all-star athlete.

You know the ones I’m talking about, the kids that excel in anything they try. They played three, or maybe even four sports and were all-state level in all of them.

It was something that you saw more at the small school level because of need, but there were plenty of uber-talented kids at the big schools that could pull this off.

In today’s world, I don’t see it much. Everyone seems geared toward being a full-time athlete. And spending all their waking time doing it.

To me, the fun part about being an athlete was playing different sports. And having fun.

I see way too much of the business side in high school athletics now. Greed finds its way in with scam artists that run specialized camps promising to get kids prepared for college, while pocketing thousands of dollars.

I see kids getting burned out at the tender age of 17, overworked, overcoached and tired of the grind. The joy of the sport is ripped away, replaced with cynicism, and sometimes hatred of the sport and those that coach them.

It’s time to put the fun back into high school sports. Those that move on to college will get to experience the business side more than they can ever know.

But those that play just to play should be able to enjoy the process for what it is meant: fun.

And extending Moratorium Week to six weeks, would be a move in the right direction.




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