Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Small-town, high school football "as a way of making it through life"

Amy Ellis Nutt reports for the Washington Post today from Eldon, Missouri, population 4,567, smack dab in the middle of the state.  Nutt notes that, while some high schools (including two dozen in Missouri) have abandoned their football programs in this era of concern for brain injuries and physical devastation to players, small towns like Eldon and nearby Tipton, persist in spite of the fact that local players have experienced those very types of injuries:  

But not here in the rural heart of the state. And not because these players are more willing to gamble crippling injury for gridiron glory. Football is not a religion here, as it is in some parts of the country.  
For the boys and their parents, it’s community and companionship. They trust the worst won’t happen — or can’t happen again. 
“Everybody understands there are freak accidents,” says Shannon Jolley, the head coach of the Eldon High team. “But we have a small family here. Our strength is our people and our community.” 
In Eldon, football is not so much a way of life as a way of making it through life.
Nutt puts all of this in the context of a devastated economy.  During the last recession, three car dealerships in Eldon closed, and its primary manufacturing facility was lost to Mexico.  The poverty rate is 44%, and 60% of students at Eldon High qualify for free lunches.  Among the 50 players on the team, the coach reports, 35 "come from struggling, mostly single-parent homes.  For many, football is a kind of psychological lifeline."  

It's an interesting thesis--connecting the place's economic devastation to its commitment to football.  Which brings me to perhaps the most poignant line in Nutt's article:  
Many small towns live for their football team. In Eldon, the football team lives for its town.

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