Baltimore Sun

Are we ready for some football-aversion therapy?

The weather's begun to cool, and when the grass gets cut these days, it smells sweeter.

I first became aware of this mid-August phenomenon at the age of 12 or 13, when I started playing junior-league football. Mind you, the fragrance of the turf is a lot easier to pick up when your face is planted in it.


By the time I got to high school, that particular aroma would trigger a melange of emotions in anticipation of two-a-day practices: dread at the prospect of conditioning drills in the heat, excitement at the prospect of hitting, anxiety about getting hit and melancholy at the approach of another school year.

Those practices always began Aug. 15. They still do, but that's not the end of it.


So-called "captain's practices," in which team members get together without coaches, have become common. Can't very well regulate those, since they are essentially pickup games.

Then you've got off-season conditioning workouts. "The coach can help, they just can't have a football," Mike Williams explained. He's the athletics coordinator for the county school system.

These workouts include running outside and weightlifting inside, and are permissable as long as they aren't restricted to just the football team. "When I was at Glenelg (High School), we'd have 80 to 100 people there every day," in the summer, Williams told me. "It's actually a good thing. It gets them acclimated to the heat before the practices start."

However, actual organized football before mid-August isn't strictly verboten. Many county players participate in summertime 7-on-7 leagues, which are not directly affiliated with the schools but often include high-school teammates and sometimes are run by their very own high-school coaches. Such was the case when the Atholton High School football program — apparently unwittingly — ran afoul of Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association rules.

Coach Kyle Schmitt and some of his players were part of one of these 7-on-7 squads this summer, and held a practice before the last state championship game of the spring season for school sports had taken place. Consequently, no matter the score of Atholton's Sept. 2 game at Glenelg, the Raiders will take the loss in a forfeit.

By all accounts, no one was trying to get away with anything here. According to Schmitt and county school officials, the coach fessed up after he realized he had misinterpreted the rules, and Schmitt says neither players nor their parents were aware that a violation had happened.

That this rule is even necessary, however, might say something about where we are with youth sports. There are still two- and three-sport athletes, to be sure, but increasingly both male and female jocks must focus on one game year-round if they want to compete. Emerging evidence links this phenomenon to some sports injuries, the theory being that doing one sport all the time can result in the same sort of repetitive-motion ailments that plague factory workers.

There's a trickle-down effect at play here. With big-time college sports getting bigger all the time, more high school kids are looking for ways onto the train. We're also putting the little guys into the spotlight more. Anybody else catch the Little League World Series (baseball and softball) on ESPN last week?


The reason that young players can be subjected to inordinate pressures, and shady characters such as Nevin Shapiro can corrupt collegiate players, and pro team owners can bleed city and state governments and charge ridiculous prices for tickets is because we feed into this crazy aspect of our culture with our insatiable appetite for sports.

Mind you, I'm just as guilty as the next guy, and I don't have any magic formula for achieving a more balanced relationship with athletic pursuits. Only thing I can think of is some sort of societal 12-step program.