It was June 3, 1970, when I wandered into the Free Press for the first time and security was so lax, I kept showing up.
I even kept showing up when I retired in December 2016. Now I am showing up in semi-retirement for my 50th year of covering high school football.
Not much has changed since that first football season 49 years ago. Not much, if you don’t count that we didn’t have state playoffs until 1975 and that year only 16 teams in the state qualified for the playoffs, four teams in each of the four classes.
A team won a state championship before ’75 when it was declared the state champ by the Free Press’ Hal Schram, the one true Swami.
Now we have 256 teams playing for eight championships and they are playing the finals in Hudson’s Warehouse, which is now called Ford Field.
We even have schools playing for two 8-player state titles.
Back then, the only surface we played on was grass. Now there are many teams that won’t play a single game on grass this season.
But the absolute biggest change over the last 49 years has been the parents.
When did they become nuts?
Back in 1970, parents seemed to have a different attitude about high school sports. They seemed glad their kids had an opportunity to play and they certainly wanted them to be successful. Now? Every game is life and death.
And that is just the beginning.
Normal, rational human beings become raving lunatics when it comes to their kids and high school athletics. If their kid doesn’t start every game, make all-state and wind up with a college scholarship, there is only one person to blame: The coach.
Parents think that if their kid gets a scholarship it is a reflection on their parenting skills, which is ludicrous.
I laugh at Twitter announcements that a kid has been offered by Olivet College or Adrian College or any of the other Division III schools.
Exactly what are have they been offered? An opportunity to pay tuition because D-III schools don’t offer athletic scholarships?
Then we come to signing day and I have no idea what the kids going to D-III schools are signing because it is not a National Letter of Intent like the kids going to D-I or D-II schools.
It is just a photo op for the parents so they can brag that their kid got a college scholarship — that really doesn’t exist.
(By the way, two of my kids played at Division III Albion and loved their athletic experiences, but they never claimed they were on athletic scholarships.)
The school-of-choice rule has opened a can of worms the Michigan High School Athletic Association is trying to control without much success. Other programs always look better than the one a kid is in and some kids transfer schools with the nonchalance of dropping third-period French.
There are a few relatively new developments that have not been in the best interest of high school kids and at the core of each of them is the goal of getting a kid a college scholarship … and ripping off their parents.
One such scam is the so-called “Underwear Olympics.” Those are the combines where kids pay to go through a series of drills, kind of what you see at the NFL combine in Indianapolis.
For the most part those are put on by recruiting services that assign stars to high school players, which is supposed to predict success at the college level.
I wonder about the people who award the stars? What are their qualifications? Do they major in astronomy in college?
One thing we know about the combines: College coaches pay absolutely no attention to them.
All-star 7-on-7 teams are another way for people to make money off parents, just like the year-round facilities dedicated to turning your kid into a Division I football player.
Personal trainers will also tell you that by training with them they can get your child to the next level.
For decades the state has produced between 55 and 65 Division I recruits a year. Several years ago, a guy running an all-star 7-on-7 program told me his program could grow that number to over 100.
Guess what? With all of the combines, personal trainers and 7-on-7 teams, the numbers haven’t changed. The state is still producing between 55 and 65 Division I athletes a year.
The trouble with the personal trainers and 7-on-7 all-star programs and the various combines is they promote specialization.
Parents are told that to be special the athlete must specialize.
But in the real world, the exact opposite is true.
In the first round of the most recent NFL draft, 29 of 32 players were multi-sport athletes. Overall, 224 of the 254 draftees played more than one sport in high school.