sportsvirtual children by Scott Warnock

Why encourage football corruption earlier than we have to?

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I walk the line of liking (and, I guess believing) in youth sports while feeling that big-time sports structures in our culture are broken. What can we do? Well, stop watching. I never watch college football or basketball, on principle, for instance. Feeble gesture, indeed, and I don’t chastise friends (too much) for their viewing preferences, especially in light of my addiction to the violent, shameless NFL. But when I read a recent piece by Philadelphia Inquirer high schools spots writer Phil Anastasia about out-of-state high school football games, I was dismayed.

(Note: for best results, read this first: “Out-of-state football games: An in thing?”.)

I appreciate Anastasia’s regular coverage of South Jersey sports, but I was troubled by his January 26 “Out-of-state” piece. In that article, he makes a thinly veiled argument that out-of-state high school football games are the, well, up-and-coming “in thing” to do, particularly advocating that a school he writes about a lot, St. Joe’s in Hammonton, travel to Ohio. With the scandals that are a regular part of collegiate sports, I wondered how a high school sports writer could advocate anything that smacks of similar excesses.

The out-of-balance nature of what he’s advocating is evidenced by the very existence of the piece itself. Plain and simple, it’s not football season right now. Even though 90 high school basketball games and wrestling matches were contested on January 25, the Sunday, January 26 Inquirer dedicated almost as much space to this out-of-season-football piece as to its coverage of all of these events combined – even including a piece Anastasia himself wrote about a boy’s basketball game.

The article doesn’t come right out and support travel to Steubenville, Ohio for St. Joe’s, but it is loaded with references about how great it would be to do just that. Steubenville football itself is built up plenty, described as one of the most “fabled programs in Ohio.”

Oddly, buried in the midst of the fanfare is this sentence about that “fabled” program: “The Big Red football team also was in the middle of a rape case that drew national attention in 2012” (that rape case is a pathetic tale). Where did that line come from? Did an editor feel a pang of guilt and insert it, as it appears out of context and is completely erased with the next sentence, in which Anastasia reaffirms that “this out of state stuff” could take St. Joe’s “to another level.”

Interestingly to me, Anastasia has written about this particular program before, most recently a few months ago when he all but taunted public school football teams that don’t want to play St. Joe’s – ignoring, mostly, that these public school teams, for better or worse, are forced to play by a different set of rules as to who can be on their team. They are bound by their districts.

I do wonder why  Anastasia has written numerous pieces, often out of season, about St. Joe’s football. I guess I’m annoyed that in the micro world of high school sports, maybe the only time in a youth athlete’s career to get a little press, while all these actual high school stories unfolded that Saturday, the Inquirer chose – and it was a choice – to run a long piece arguing that an out-of-season sports team play a program from another state with a sordid history. I know, I know: But it’ll be fun!

I’m more frustrated about the main point of the piece itself. To Mr. Anastasia, I say this: If the people who pay tuition so their kids can get an education at St. Joe’s want to support their football team’s travels for interstate games, that indeed is their choice. But at a time when the lens is increasingly focused on the pure corruption and greed of big-time collegiate sports – darn, even Sports Illustrated is coming to its senses –  I think it’s irresponsible for the Inquirer to promote these excesses at the high school level.

Scott Warnock is a writer and teacher who lives in South Jersey. He is a professor of English at Drexel University, where he directs the University Writing Program. Father of three and husband of one, Scott is on two local school boards and coaches all kinds of youth sports.
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7 Responses to “Why encourage football corruption earlier than we have to?”

  1. I love high school sports. I loved it as a kid competing or watching my friends and I’ve loved it all over the US, spending Friday nights in the bleachers, Saturdays in stands and in some smaller towns, in our own lawn chairs in the dust – just hanging out watching kids play.
    It wasn’t until recently that I learned of what I consider the stupid practices of single sport focus – of making kids choose a sport in 7th or 8th grade eliminating their fun play – even for conditioning- of other sports. In Levittown if you don’t attend weight training in the spring, don’t even think of trying out for football in August. If you play baseball in some NJ towns don’t even think of wrestling or basketball.
    These single-focus mindsets excluding all other input or perspectives are exactly what breed corruption and disgrace in programs like Steubenville and other programs that have yet to address their corruption at this level.

  2. This is still America – even with Obama trying to ruin it. (Law? What law?!)
    We still have some freedom of choice in our morally challenged socialistic obamacaring society.
    Kids choose to want to play each sport.
    Parents that are willing to pay for private school, private instruction, and camps can choose to do so.
    And you can choose not to read an article in the Inquirer. How about you go a step further and examine how a newspaper that is owned by a corrupt political power broker is editing these articles?
    Maybe that is your answer to the “rape case” reference.
    Hmmm….or maybe not.
    And CBS called and they would appreciate you watching some March madness. You are really hurting the ratings.

  3. Public high School marching band and cheerleading teams do this all this time. What’s the difference?

  4. More specifically, if it’s a once-a-season thing that student athletes enjoy as a reward, and it’s funded by parents and non-taxpayer derived resources, and it gives kids opportunity to experience play in a different part of the country, then why not? Also, I should mention that track programs frequently complete out of state, too.

  5. What is your axe to grind? did Phil not write about Bishop Eustace enough? Or did you get cut when you were young? Mr Anastasia is an honest, well versed and tremendous writer. Coach Sacco has no “in” as you may say in the Inquirer. He gets peanuts to coach(virtually does it for free) and hardly cherry picks as you mention.His ids workout 12 months for 4 years. there is no harder working coach then Paul sacco. Sacco would have success anywhere he coached because he is the best. You have no idea what your talking about Scott. ZERO! Why not be happy a team from south jersey, where you live as well, travels and puts a stamp on south jersey football? I would love to know who u claim to know in the St Joe football sphere. I doubt you know anyone. Anastasia writes articles about all programs, and he is the best at it. If you don’t like, don’t read them. What does what happened in Ohio have to do with today? Nothing! Things happen. Little Rock Ark had race riots, so do kids, of all races, still go to school? yes. Corruption? there is corruption everywhere. In your mind then, all Catholic schools should be closed then, because of the church’s cover up of a few horrible instances of a few priests? Right? Maybe Penn State should close its doors or Drexel as well after their rape cases? Please stick to correcting English papers and let Phil and the Inquirer stick to writing for their newspaper.

  6. I really don’t get the point of your article. I got news for you, high school football is huge everywhere, and not just at some little school in sleepy Hammonton. So if your point is we (all of us) take high school football too seriously, then don’t watch it. Ignore the sports writers who write about it. Stay off the blog and the forums where it’s discussed. I can’t even watch Nascar so I don’t. Treat high school football like my Nascar and ignore it.

    But that’s not your point is it. You got an ax to grind first against BOTH Phil Anastasia and the St Joe football program. That’s the real point of your article. And guess what, I could care less about your reasoning. But what I do care about is that you unfairly maligned both. First, St Joe wins not because it is an Allstar team. St Joe wins regardless of whether it is an Allstar team in any given year. For example, St Joe’s 2012 version was probably the 4th most talented team in the Cape American, but it still ran the table against mostly Group 5 teams. Last year, St Joe only had 3 seniors and, but for a thrilling loss to Holy Spirit, crushed everything in its path.

    St Joe wins not because it’s an Allstar team. It wins because it is the most disciplined, physical and well coached team in the area despite its lack of size and ordinarily lack of major D-1 talent. Put Coach Sacco at any of his Group 5 opponents schools and guess what, the results are exactly the same.

    That brings me to Phil Anastasia. He has been the inquirers high school football South Jersey beat writer since as long as I can remember and I am well into my 50s and played high school football in this area. I assume he lives his craft every single day. Over those years, he has seen the greats and the not so great programs. He has great HS coaches come and go. And over those years I think Mr. Anastasia has earned the right to express an opinion on the direction of football and the programs that he covers. And having covered St Joe for probably most if not all of Paul Sacco’s illustrious 30 plus year career, he probably developed a great deal of respect for what he does and frankly the unfairness of the junk thrown in his direction.

    So when it comes to perspective of the validity of what St Joes stands for Mr. Warnock, I must say that Mr. Anastsia’s viewpoint careers a heckuva a lot more weight with me and probably anyone else around here than yours. Sorry to be so blunt my friend but it’s the truth.

  7. I appreciate these comments. Thanks to them, I’ve revised this piece a bit to better represent — and in a way I hope is fairer to all parties — my point of view on this topic.

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