Aidan will be in the stands, not on the field.
The decision to stop playing football was his own.
Dunreith and I are relieved that he emerged uninjured from four years of playing the game.
We are also proud of the maturity behind his choice.
Aidan is taking a heavy academic load this year and knows that he would be very hard pressed to attend all the practices and games involved in football and fulfill his responsibilities in the classroom.
High school football has been the subject of some memorable and well written books.
Originally intended to a be a heartwarming tale of how the team can bind together a small West Texas town that is subject to the boom and bust cycles of the oil economy, Bissinger painted a vivid and much darker portrait of players treated like gods while also under immense pressure to perform, of racial prejudice among the residents and even some of the coaches, and of an unhealthy obsession with victory.
A far different picture emerges in Joe Drape’s Our Boys: A Perfect Season on the Plains with the Smith Center Redmen.
Drape moved his family to tiny Smith Center, Kansas to chronicle the Redmen’s 2008 season and quest for a fifth consecutive undefeated season and state championship.
Barta talks to the young men about football, but talk at least if not more often about values, respect and love-love the coaches, parents and community feel for the young men who are embarking on their mission. While he understands the importance of the streak, Barta emphasizes the importance of showing up each day and trying to improve.
He doesn’t just talk.
When Barta decides he has been too hard on a player, he apologizes to them, does so man-to-man in front of the entire team, and then uses humor to lift their mood.
The staff follows his lead.
One of the book’s narrative threads is former player and coach Mike Rogers’ acceptance of the mistakes his undersized son Colt makes. At one point the older Rogers reprimands his son loudly and publicly for a muffed punt return; the other coaches get on him instantly.
Drape also shows the pre-game rituals of breaking bread, relaxation and then getting revved up to play that Barta has implemented and that each have a sacred quality.
Our Boys is not just about the team, but about the community in which they live.
Like Bissinger, Drape writes about the players’ town and state. About as solidly Republican a community as is possible, Smith Center is a farming community that has been hit hard both by the gradual decline in small farms as well as the economic crash.
More personal than Friday Night Lights-Drape drops details in throughout the book about his young son’s joyful experiences-Our Boys is clothed in a gauzy filter of a bygone era of timeless values passed through the generations from father to son.
It’s moving stuff, and important to note that people and communities like Smith Center exist. While I enjoyed Bissinger’s writing and more textured description of the town, I did move swiftly along Drape’s heartwarming tale of success and values in America’s Heartland.
I imagine that Aidan may feel a twinge or when he sees his friends and former teammates take the field tomorrow, and I am heartened by the values he has shown, too.