COLUMN: Random thoughts on the fall high-school sports season

This is an odd time of year, high-school sports-wise.

The calendar says it’s still August, and school has not started yet, but the fall season is in full swing. By the time kids start the school year, two football games will have been played and the rest of the fall sports will have had several contests and will be just hitting their midseason stride.

When I was in Lansing, I wrote of a freshman soccer phenom who notched his first varsity hat trick before ever setting foot in a high-school classroom.

In years like this one, when two football games are scheduled before Labor Day — before which the state mandates that school cannot start — there will be only seven weeks of school that end with a football game (six, for schools like Brethren and Manistee Catholic Central that have just eight games scheduled).

Of course, the weather has much to do with this. Fall sports are notorious for starting their seasons in blazing heat and ending in the snow, and as I have found in my two-and-a-half years living in Northern Michigan, the weather affects everything.

I’m not sure if there is a solution, or even if there is a problem. It’s just weird.

Here are some other thoughts on the fall season, while I still have time to jot them down.

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I have a question that I ask every fall, and I have yet to hear a satisfactory answer: Why, in volleyball, do the players rotate as they do?

It seems to me that someone, some time, thought it was a good idea to force players to play out of position.

Imagine if other sports adopted this idea. Quarterbacks would have to spend a down on each possession as a blocker. Basketball centers would be required to dribble the ball up the floor after a made basket. Pitchers would be forced to bat (oh, wait…).

The only answers I have ever received after asking the question are variations of, “just because, that’s volleyball.”

I have yet to come up with a good reason not to allow the best six players find their best positions, just keep them there, and play the game. And no, “just because” is not a good reason.

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Before I forget, there have been a few rules changes in high-school football this season. Most of them make sense, like restrictions on blind-side blocking, but one makes me wonder what the rules-making folks are thinking.

Starting this season, non-contact face-guarding will no longer be considered pass interference. That is, defensive backs will be allowed to turn their backs to the ball in flight and simply look at the intended pass receiver’s face to judge when and where the ball is coming.

To my way of thinking, making it harder to pass the ball in high-school football serves no real purpose for anyone but defensive coaches and others who don’t like scoring.

Most fans would like to see more passing, more scoring, more big plays in football, not less. High-school football is no exception. But making it easier for defenders will result in the opposite of that, and I am mystified as to why.

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Two of the fall sports that seem down on the list of interest among general sports fans feature the hardest workers in all of athletics: Swimming and cross country.

I’ve seen a clever saying on T-shirts worn by cross country teams that read, “Your punishment is our sport.” And it’s true.

All they do is run. A lot. In addition to the sheer hard work of running from here to a few miles away day after day with the solitary goal of always doing it faster, there is the sheer mental fatigue of doing nothing but not give in to the normal human response of, “STOP, ALREADY! IT HURTS!”

Swimming is much the same. I have nothing but admiration for those who can get into a pool and swim distances measured in miles every week. That is, after all, what competitive swimmers do, and all they do, for practice. And that’s on top of the weight training they do to build the strength to propel themselves through those miles of water ever faster.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to denigrate the effort any athletes put forth in the pursuit of their chosen sport, whatever it may be. It’s not like football players have it easy, by any stretch.

But the amount of lonely, anonymous, potentially back- and spirit-breaking drudgery that distance runners and swimmers put themselves through in practice deserve a measure of recognition that their sporting contests sometimes do not provide.

And that’s a shame.

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Posted by Scott Yoshonis

Scott is the sports editor of the Manistee News Advocate. You can reach him at (231) 398-3112 or syoshonis@pioneergroup.com.

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