The changing of the seasons from summer to fall is always a major transition for me as a chronicler of local sports news.
My point of focus goes from the New Britain Rock Cats, a group of outstanding young baseball players extremely close to the top of their profession, to local scholastic sports, played by our sons, daughters, neighbors and friends.
The Rock Cats, while young, are indeed professional. Some fans may not realize that they received paychecks for their performance from the Minnesota Twins, not an astounding amount of money like their big-league elders get, but a paycheck nonetheless capable of sustaining them through the six months of the season.
I don’t, as a rule, offer scornful criticism of Rock Cats players during the season. I save that if I see a lack of hustle or something that doesn’t provide the ticket-buying public an honest game’s effort. Truthfully, I haven’t seen that much if at all from the young Twins, who generally have two or three years of playing the organization’s style of fundamentals-oriented baseball.
But when it comes to high school football, there is never a reason to deride a student-athlete either in print or in person. We tend to take the mentality instilled by our rooting interests in the professional and college games and apply it to our local inclinations, which is cruel to do to a youngster who may be playing the game for the first time.
My preference would be to see people keep their partiality in their hearts, in their immediate circle or the walls of their own home while giving players from the other team the credit they deserve for working hard.
If you go to a high school game, by all means, root for the home team, but if you find yourself thinking of antagonistic chants aimed toward the other team, please think twice. This isn’t the Yankees-Red Sox, Jets-Patriots or UConn-Syracuse.
We’ve got to have a little compassion for youngsters who play the game and try their best, remembering why it is that high schools engage in interscholastic sports. They provide group dynamics with adult supervision in an entertaining, work- and goal-oriented atmosphere so our youth learn about working together toward a common goal.
Let’s not place other major sports values on these kids either. The gambling element, for example, that has permeated professional and college sports sickens me enough on that level. To engage in picking favorites and underdogs among high school teams is distasteful at best to me.
In over 20 years of sports writing, I have found that today’s high school athlete is tomorrow’s leader. If we don’t set a good example for them in their formative years, it will come back to haunt us when they begin to make decisions that will affect the latter stages our lives.
I will try to set that example in my articles. Mistakes may be made in big games that need to be attributable, but that is a valuable lesson in life. I will never go out of my way to put undue pressure or inflict the values of America’s major sports on our children. If I ever do, please kick my butt.