I started my high school football career when I was in second grade. That was when Oregon coaching legend Faustin Riley recruited me to be his lead "water boy."
At 7 years old and of limited athletic ability, Coach, as I call him still today, and I decided placing me at water boy was a good fit given my skillset.
Over the years, I moved up the management ranks, first to ball boy, and eventually tracking the plays and obtaining the heavily sought-after title of "clipboard boy" by the eighth grade.
Like most kids heading into high school, I hoped I would have the right stuff to one day earn a college scholarship for my performance on the field. What I had going against me in this pursuit was the fact that I wasn't yet 6 feet tall, a little pudgy, and topping it all off, not very fast. What I had going for me was I was coachable, knew the playbook, and cared deeply about the program and its role in the local community (Can the reader guess which skillset has benefited me more in life post-high school sports?)
I share this journey, not as a way to highlight any achievement I accomplished on the gridiron. And I definitely don't share it to highlight my somewhat lacking abilities as an athlete.
Instead, I hope to shine a light on what we lose when we lose high school sports — that is, a large sense of our community. A loss that impacts everyone from the water boy, to the senior quarterback, to the grandparent watching what may be their final game from the stands. High school sports touch every demographic of all generations.
I know that high school football is just a simple game. But isn't that the essence of the American experience? To take simple things and as a community make them special for all involved? Believe it or not, "E pluribus unum" ("Out of many, one") isn't just a fancy saying for our representatives to slap on their letterhead. It's our individual ability to gather and support our local communities.
I have joined many Americans in grieving the loss of numerous high school sporting events this past year. Not in the sense of having a loved one miss out on the chance to walk out of the locker room tunnel under those bright lights on a brisk autumn evening. But in the sense of someone who now lives over 3,000 miles away from where he grew up, and desiring to watch a high school game and feel that familiar feeling of togetherness with my fellow citizens.
If you're wondering how my football journey ended, I'm sorry to say it wasn't with a scholarship — not even close. What countless other high school athletes and I gained instead was the opportunity to be part of a team, part of a community, and most importantly, part of something greater than ourselves. We gained a genuine understanding of "E pluribus unum" in action.
David Lowe Cozad is a graduate of Beaverton High School, Willamette University, and the University of Massachusetts Isenberg School of Management. His other writings can be found at libraryeightyeight.com.
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