It has been hot. In the hazy humid sunlight of late afternoons I have been spending time with the Middletown Knights. Not the high school football team but the Middletown Valley Athletic Association (MVAA) teams of mini-pony, pony, J.V. and varsity.
These players are in elementary and middle school, but they are going through many of the same drills and workouts as their counterparts in high school, college and even the National Football League. The football season is nearly upon us, but, before the first coin is tossed at game time, players must work to get in shape and master their positions.
It is hard work to do push ups and run 40's in the blazing August sun. In order to play this game, you have to work long and hard before that first game. Why do so many players forgo the last month of vacation to work so hard? They love the game of football and they want to play.
This season the MVAA had so many new players sign up that it was proposed that another team be formed. The concept is that many players would not get much playing time and those less experienced might benefit from getting to play in the Carroll County Football League (CCFL).
So a new team in the B level (JV) was formed. The idea is that these kids will learn and benefit from the experience much more than watching from the sidelines.
I am the head coach. With two years experience as an assistant football coach in the MVAA and having coached several intermural basketball teams, it is a new challenge for me. Luckily for me the MVAA through Coach Tom Evich has been wonderfully supportive.
My days have become filled with planning, preparing and spent teaching 9-12 year olds the game of football. It is a wonderful experience when young players learn from your instruction; I can understand why teachers remain in the classroom. It isn't for the paycheck.
Coaches in the MVAA and CCFL do not get paychecks. Many of them are parents of players or former high school players returned to help as they were once helped.
In my own case I had two sons go through the MVAA. Robert, my eldest son, has just graduated from Middletown and is in college; he is also finding time to be my assistant coach. My youngest is a junior in high school and is on the varsity football team. I also will be doing the PA announcing for the MHS JV team this fall at several home games. Between games, coaching and being a spectator at varsity games it will be a very busy fall.
Writing columns is a part of my life, but finding time to follow every eddy and current of politics lately has been impossible. Coaching has absorbed my time. So for the next few months I will be writing less about politics. Since I am spending so much time coaching it seemed logical that the topic of local football, coaching, players and the community be the subject of this and some future columns.
Sunday a week ago we had weigh ins. Parents and siblings plus 18 players made the journey to Westminster where - with our tireless league coordinator Mike Lloyd, myself, assistant coaches Tom Mannas and Robert Lulie -we stood together as a team on a sun baked field waiting our turn.
At weigh-ins each player must be weighed and provide identification before they can be officially on the player roster and play. Our single 12 year old is a "play back" and has to weigh 105 pounds or less. All the other kids just have to weigh in under 125.
For my 12 year old it was a worrying week. He and I just discovered the 105 limit six days earlier. At that time he weighed 112. His parents were terrific and worked hard helping him to lose enough weight to pass. Looking at him, a tall and lanky kid, you wonder how he could lose any weight. He arrived and passed the 105 test, gleeful that now he can go out and eat!
All told we have 19 players, ranging in ages from 9 to 12. They have just begun to discover what it means to be a part of a team and our first game is shortly. Nineteen players is not actually a large number for a football team. It takes 11 players to have an offense and 11 players to have a defense. With only 19 players my players will all be playing on both offense and defense. They will be getting a lot of playing time.
That's the concept here. Of course we want to win, but our first goal is to teach our players the game of football and make them better players.
Football is a game that is easy to learn but if you study the game closely you will discover levels of complexity that most fans never see. The game is played at speeds that increase with the level of the game.
It can be a violent game, an unpredictable game and it is played in almost all kinds of weather. It can be 35 degrees and pouring rain and the game goes on. Snow, wind, sleet and fog will not stop play (mostly); but the slightest sound of thunder will bring an immediate end. Lightning is the exception to the rule, no one wants to risk having players or fans injured.
Yet snow will not stop play unless it falls so fast and heavy that the field becomes invisible beneath a mantle of white. Snow has a particular allure to a coach standing on a grassy field under a cloudless sky in mid August. I well recall many frigid evenings in November as sleet pelted us while we practiced under the glare of portable lights. It seems odd that when I remember those shivering evenings in the bitter wind I do not recall the slightest longing for those hot days back in August.
When I was asked to coach the question was raised: Did I believe that I could make game time decisions. Of course I can. No problem there. I can make decisions; of course making the right game time decision is another thing entirely. You always hope that you choose wisely, but who knows. NFL coaches, making large salaries for their professional expertise, frequently make the wrong decision, much to the delight of commentators.
Politics is not discussed by our team or coaches. It isn't relevant. Family and homework comes first but then TEAM.
Favorite NFL and college favorites may become topics of contention among teammates; but politics is generally taboo. I'm not sure how this comes about, but in the years that I have coached and announced games it is largely considered a divisive subject and football is a game that is all about unity.
One of football's many virtues is that it inspires team unity and a sense of community. Families will gather together to cheer on their young players and often meet neighbors for the first time. It is a community-building sport that needs the communities support to survive and grow. The demands on the limited number of area playing fields should probably merit a column all by itself.
My team has only two scheduled home games. That means that most of games will be played on the road, far from home.
In the meantime I urge you to attend at least one game in the coming season; watching our young men (and more than a few young ladies play as well these days) engage in a fast paced, action filled competition at a field near you.
It is football time again and I can hardly wait for our first game.