Greg Peck: What's the future of high school football?
The Gazette today unveiled its annual football special section. Unlike years ago, this section focuses on area high school teams to the exclusion of college football.
I'm a big Packer and Badger football fan but have only casual interest in high school football. The two Janesville high schools, Craig and Parker, have struggled to compete in recent years, and that hasn't added incentive for me to check out their games. Coaches express optimism that they'll field better teams this year, but whether those hopes translate into victories remains to be seen.
Still, it's disappointing that the players, fellow students and the schools can't fully enjoy and take part in the run-up to the annual cross-town match-up this fall. After Craig opens this Friday by hosting Beloit Memorial while Parker opens at Middleton, the Cougars and Vikings square off next week, Aug. 29—again before classes even begin. No hallway buzz for this game.
We discussed briefly the future of high school football in The Gazette's editors meeting Monday. I never played high school football. I considered myself a decent athlete and as a freshman was getting pressure from classmates and upperclassmen to go out for football, but my parents refused to sign the paperwork. I was skinny then, and they feared I'd get hurt.
I wasn't happy, but perhaps they spared me lifelong repercussions. Today, much of the sport's focus is on the long-term ramifications of concussions. The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association opened this football season with new rules that limit player-on-player contact in practices to help reduce concussions and other injuries.
Gazette Editor Scott Angus, also a big Badger and Packer fan, played football at Fort Atkinson High School. Still, he sees an uncertain future for the high school sport. He notices that some schools now have joint teams because of a lack of players. Nicolet decided to not field a varsity team this fall. Some schools play eight-on-eight football because of dwindling player numbers.
If concussions continue to raise concerns, particularly for parents, will the number of players keep eroding, and will that someday reduce the quality of players at the college and even professional levels? It's hard to imagine that it wouldn't eventually have an effect.
In the meantime, I wish good luck and good health to all local players and teams as they kick off a new season.