To me, high school athletics are the best, purest form of sports in the world.

It’s the only form of competition that’s played at a high enough level to be wildly entertaining, but that’s also still pure — free from the commercialization and greed that heavily surrounds professional sports and that’s also slowly swarming the collegiate level, as well. 

I could write for days about the wonderful players I’ve seen in the past and some of the amazing young men we have in our area today.

But instead, I want to focus today on the folks who often go unnoticed, but yet are still a huge part of the Friday Night experience.

Let’s start with the volunteers.

We have 11 high schools in our area. I’ve been to them all for a home football game. 

It never fails. At every, single local school, there is an army of volunteers there willing to lend a hand. Some are manning the ticket gate, while others are working the chains. 

Some serve drinks in the concession stand, which others spend time and money to cook — for concession stands, but also for teams after the game.

These folks go unnoticed, but without them, the high school football experience locally wouldn’t be what it is. I wanted to personally thank all of those volunteers at all of our local schools.

You folks know who you are. No one ever publicly thanks you, so I wanted to take the time to do so now in my allotted column space.

I also wanted to shout out our students — many of which never will play a snap of football this season.  

I’m talking about cheerleaders who dedicate their time to cheer for local teams.

We have some of the best cheer squads in the state here locally. That’s not just lip service. That’s a fact. Some of our teams have won state championships and others perform favorably at some of the top competitions around. 

These folks are often seen, but we take their time for granted. They’re a huge part of why we love Friday nights in the fall.

I also want to shout out our team mangers. I know the work a team manager puts in because I was once in their shoes. It’s more than just the stereotype of serving water to players. Those kids help set up the field before games and are also a part in preparing teams throughout the week.

At practice, they’re there. On Friday nights, of course, they’re there, too.

But often when players are on the way home, they’re still at school washing uniforms or cleaning water coolers or doing other things that go unnoticed.

To those young men and women, know that you’re a big part of the team. You’re a huge part of why we love the high school football season.

Oh, and then there’s the bands.

Nothing says prep football like marching bands. As soon as one walks into a stadium for a game, the melodic beats of a fight song can be heard in the background. These children perform and entertain throughout the game. Their music inspires players to keep pushing forward and fighting toward the goal.

At halftime and after games, they perform their routines, and some of them are stunning. Like the cheer squads, we have some of the most successful marching bands in the state in this area. At the festivals each fall, our squads rank in the Top 10 in the state. The pageantry is like nothing else. The choreography is on point. What would high school football be without the marching bands? It’d still be cool, but there would be far fewer people dancing, which is far less fun.

Oh, and I want to thank one other group of people for their sacrifices — the coaches’ wives.

Coaching is a thankless job locally. Those guys are paid just small stipends to dedicate thousands of hours to their teams. It’s truly a labor of love.

But to coach football, most of these men are sacrificing time at home with their families. 

To be a coach’s wife is one of the most overlooked jobs in the world. That’s not a type-o. It’s a job. 

With husbands home less, they have to do more of the housework and more of the parenting. With the stresses of the season that come, they also have to lend moral support and give a little extra love.

On Friday nights, they have to sometimes swallow their tongues when they hear criticism from the Peanut Gallery — opting instead to keep a positive vibe.

To the wives, thank you for allowing your husbands to coach. 

Your sacrifice is a selfless one and we appreciate it. 

To all of the above, thanks, as well.

To do high school football the way we do it locally, it takes more than just coaches and players — it takes a willing army.

We have that here and it’s special. 

Shoutout to those involved. You all deserve a little time in the sun. •

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