- Sometimes it takes a bigot like Donald Sterling to remind us that the highest level of competitive sports doesn’t equal the highest level of professionalism. The now-loathed Los Angeles Clippers owner’s insensitive comments and actions regarding race was a not-so-subtle reminder that high school athletics are the only genuine article left in American sports.
Over the years, professional sports have slowly transformed from a business featuring elite athletes competing on the field, court, or rink into a high stakes game of athletes, agents, and owners competing for their next business venture. What once was an enjoyable afternoon at the stadium to catch a game has turned into a 365/24 sports circus featuring very little actual athletic competition.
For his part, Sterling is just an old, shriveled cherry on the top of a quickly melting sundae.
Thankfully high school athletics are still played for the pure joy of the sport. High school sports offer less politics and the players, coaches and administration involved are participating for the love of the game--not for the next contract or television deal. Don’t get me wrong, professional athletes, coaches and owners deserve to be financially compensated, but when money becomes the overriding factor, the fundamental nature of the game suffers. It is more than just the money that has tainted sports; it is the meaningless minutiae that surround the sports. What once was a discussion of what happened on the field has become a discussion of what is happening off of it. The on-field discussion is now secondary.
It used to be that college athletics was an alternative from the corruption of professional sports. College was the perfect blending of ability and affection for the game. The best local high school athletes would leave their hometowns and would continue to hone their craft against equal competition at the next level. However, over the last decade, college athletic programs have become increasingly profitable entities that will jump conferences at the drop of a hat for the windfall of money that awaits the school. From multi-millionaire coaches to players attempting to unionize for pay, the landscape of college athletics has drastically changed. What was once was an extension of high school athletics is now a farm system for big business athletics. In some cases, college athletics even trump the university itself, with coaches and players having more power than their university president. Yes I’m talking to you, Alabama and Kentucky.
This leaves high school as our last hope. It’s too late to change what has happened to college and professional athletics, but we can preserve the purity at the high school level. I’ve been fortunate to cover games at the high school level, and there is nothing like the smell of freshly mowed grass on a Friday night for a football game, or the frenzy of the student sections at a rivalry basketball game. The passion of a great high school athletic event is nearly tangible. As a spectator, you feel as if you become part of the action.
This passion can still be found at the next levels, but it is dwindling year by year due to those who are corrupting the sports at the highest levels. Owners like Sterling are spoiling sports. Coaches like Bill Belicheck have made a mockery of a great game. Athletes like Ryan Braun have cheated themselves and the paying public. The owners, coaches, and athletes will all make money and continue to reap the benefits from the game. The real losers are the fans. Those that pay for the product are getting a watered-down version of what once was.
This is why it is important to support your local high school athletic programs. They not only represent our towns and communities, but they are playing the love of the games and not lusting for the next dollar. High school athletics remind us that for every Donald Sterling there is his polar opposite.
Enter John McKissick.
McKissick is entering his 63rd season as the head football coach at Summerville High School in South Carolina. The legendary coach has amassed over 600 wins, had five undefeated seasons and won 10 state championships during his tenure. Some coaches would have jumped to the collegiate or professional ranks with his type of resume, but not McKissick. Following his monumental 600th coach victory, he said that high school sports can “teach young people so much about life.”
It sounds like Sterling and other professionals could use a lesson from McKissick.