Of Football Programs And “Perks”

When Armwood High head football coach Sean Callahan was going through the interview process at Valdosta (Ga.) High, there was more than speculation that he might leave. There was also – abetted by the media – criticism that greater appreciation hadn’t been lavished on Callahan and his ultra-successful program that had earned two state championships and a runner-up the last three years. And make no mistake, “appreciation” meant Hillsborough County doing more to keep him – like adding some perks.

Wasn’t it a disgrace, went the reasoning, that Armwood’s Lyle Flagg Stadium had, for example, no field house. Moreover, the locker room wasn’t air-conditioned and the weight room was unconscionably undersized. There wasn’t even a separate office for Callahan. And Armwood’s coaches were still subject to the countywide supplement of $3,200. If the program wanted something extra, such as trophy cases, nicer signage, or new practice-field sod, it needed to go the fund-raising route.

Two points.

First, there’s a lot to like about high school football, not the least of which is excellence achieved through effort, perseverance and teamwork. In some cases, it leads to scholarships that otherwise wouldn’t be forthcoming. And amid all the options open to young people in an increasingly churlish culture, this is still among the healthier avenues for having fun.

Having said that, we’re still talking about a game. An extracurricular activity like no other to be sure, but still a game. It’s not why students are in school. It’s not more important than most other school activities. It shouldn’t be yet another reminder that we live in a society skewed toward deified, double-standard athletes.

And, frankly, I’m glad we’re not Valdosta, where the head coach can make nearly $100,000 a year and doesn’t even have to pretend to “teach.” And where the facilities rival many college programs. All of which is absurd, and that genie of priorities run amok can never be rebottled.

The Hillsborough County School District has myriad challenges, including overcrowding and underfunding. It doesn’t need to underwrite pricey perks for sports programs, no matter how laudably successful.

As for Armwood, per se, pride, pep rallies, proclamations, banquets, scholarships and success for its own sake will have to do.

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