Lessons for a lifetime

Memories come flooding back at the thought of high school sports practices.

Aug. 1 was, in our day, the traditional start. There were no offseason workouts of a supervised nature, no 7-on-7 and the like for football. Rather, we knew that come the start of football practice, being in shape was expected.

Either go ahead and run on your own in June and July, or suffer come August.

Plenty of guys on our team spent the day in searing heat and humidity, cropping tobacco or picking cucumbers or doing whatever else we could to earn a few bucks and be able to take a date out on Friday or Saturday nights.

Or just put gas in the car to drive around — cruising was the term our parents liked to use.

We labored through the evening heat; there weren’t teams practicing in the mornings back then, at least not in our area. Everybody else’s kids were like us, needing to work during the day.

Hot, with gnats and skeeters all about — that August memory never fades. September was the switch to day practices with the start of school, driving a school bus and hustling onto the field as soon as the route was done. In October the countdown to the finish began, when we didn’t want it to end.

Somewhere in between was the week we had to do 40 up-downs each day, because if we lost the previous week that’s what we did after stretching and the amount equaled the number of points our opponent scored. Never happened again — the 40, not the up-downs.

Then there was the day Dennis took off, just leaving the huddle and racing past the visiting bleachers toward the fence that bordered the woods. There’s nothing over there now, wasn’t then either. Coach asked him why when he got back. “I smelled chicken, coach.”

True story.

With only a single scrimmage the week before the opener of a regular season with 10 games in 10 weeks, that meant pretty much three full weeks before we banged on somebody other than our teammates. Four weeks until it meant something, with humidity, gnats and skeeters.

Next week, football teams will strap it tight and scrimmage tough opponents. Some are going twice in as many nights. Our coaches, bless their heart, would not approve.

Times change, but not the lessons.

Fundamentals taught by prep coaches can provide the groundwork for success in life. Teamwork, perseverance, dedication, sacrifice — these are just a part of the valuable teachings young people can gain through their participation.

And rest assured of two things: being the standout player is not required, and high school coaches don’t get paid a king’s ransom to share the wisdom. They’ll love on these kids in a heartbeat and keep the bond as long as possible. Ever seem a high school coach reunite with a former player he hasn’t seen in a while? Just watch ‘em both light up.

Hustling and being all in; that’s all it takes.

The plays made, the unities forged, the spirit of the rivalries — all are great memories, to be recalled in vivid splendor as much as hazy guesses. The fundamentals applied to life will be repeated daily, revealing true character.

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Alan Wooten’s sports column appears regularly in the Bladen Journal. He can be reached at 910-247-9132 or awooten@bladenjournal.com.

Alan Wooten’s sports column appears regularly in the Bladen Journal. He can be reached at 910-247-9132 or awooten@bladenjournal.com.