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Sometimes a bug is worth fighting for

Published 2:19pm Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Local high school football practice began Monday across the state, another sign that my favorite time of the year is upon us.

I love football. It doesn’t matter if it is pro, college, high school, rec league or watching a bunch of kids in a vacant lot drawing up plays in the dirt and scoring touchdowns running through two pine trees that mark paydirt.

The day after the Super Bowl is the saddest day of the year for me. I almost go into instant depression just knowing that there is a seven-month lull before they kick it off again.

I guess it goes back to my roots where I played youth football at the YMCA, when I was on the team for six years through junior high and high school. I use the words “on the team” because at times it didn’t play a whole lot. But even with my share of pine time, I still developed a love for the game and the sense of team that two-a-day practices in 90-plus degree heat seems to develop.

I drove out to a couple of schools yesterday to watch practice from a distance and I noticed some things that are so much different than when I played and later taped ankles at the University of Georgia. The difference? Water. Lots and lots of water.

I may be dating myself, but when I played, water was a rarity. Coaches seemed to think back then that drinking water made you weak. “You think they are going to stop a game so you can get a drink,” then-North Clayton High School Coach Jim Clepper said. “No. And we ain’t stopping practice now either.”

So we had to wait until halftime to drink. It was that magic time at about the halfway point of a three-hour practice when we were allowed to have a precious drink of water, or maybe a ball of ice and if we were lucky – a cup of salty Kool-Aid that they used because they were too cheap to buy Gatorade.

The coaches always made sure the starters and seniors got to drink first, followed by us scrubs and underclassmen. Normally there was enough to go around, but every now and then – the last drops had to be rationed.

One day it was a perfect storm when it was time for me and Jeff Shockley to drink.

We were down to the last paper cup of water and a giant horsefly had made it his personal swimming pool. He was belly up, in the bottom of the cup.

“I guess you are out of luck guys, I’m throwing this one out,” the coach said.

“No, don’t do that,” Jeff and I said at the same time.

“You mean you really want to drink this,” the coach said. “There’s only one cup. You two wrestle for it and the winner gets the fly-infested water I guess.”

We lined up in a three-point stance and when the coach blew the whistle it was on. In a battle that WWE promoter Vince McMahon would have found interesting,  I finally pinned Jeff down for the required three seconds and I jumped up just like I had been handed the championship belt.

I grabbed the cup and chugged like a frat boy next to a keg. Fly and all, it was in the belly, and I never even noticed the extra protein as it slid down the throat. As I write this, I can’t believe we actually fought over a cup of water, but thirst makes you do crazy things I guess.

I also can’t believe I’m telling that on myself, but I guess it’s just a way to show how times have changed.

Today it is a different story.

Gone are the days of salt tablets and rationed water. Instead coaches keep water flowing in fountains to make sure that players stay hydrated. Lengths of practices are monitored and at times they even call off practice in times of dangerous temperatures.

I guess the good old days weren’t always so good, were they?

Mitch Sneed is the editor of The Outlook.

 

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