Atomic City Update: High school football avoids controversy, unites communities

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By Phil Scherer

As the NFL and college sports erupt in controversy and politicization, I am grateful that we still have high school football to remind us what the game is supposed to be all about.

Right now, the NFL is dealing with the backlash and effects of many of its players kneeling during the national anthem, or deciding to stay in their locker rooms until the anthem is over.

College athletics were rocked this week when the results of an FBI investigation revealed that players were being paid outlandish amounts of money to come to universities affiliated with Adidas brand apparel.

That investigation has led to the arrest of four assistant coaches, and the dismissal of Rick Pitino, the highly successful basketball coach at the University of Louisville. The investigation could lead to the dismissal of more coaches, in both football and basketball.

Luckily, the drama that has hit higher levels of sports has avoided the high school level to this point.

Nothing has changed in Los Alamos. The players and crowd stand and face the flag in the middle of the field for the playing of the anthem before each game.

Players at this level play because they love the game, not because they’re on a scholarship or because they’re being paid for their talents.

In  fact, the vast majority of people that I watch compete each week at Los Alamos High School will never play another snap of football once the final whistle blows during their senior seasons.

Nationwide, just 8.4 percent of high school football players compete at a higher level, and just 2.5 percent of those play at the NCAA Division I level, accoring to the NCAA.

Playing in college is not a motivating factor for most of the people in high school. It is just something they do for fun, and for the love of the game.

The pure love of the game begins to leave the equation once someone has a scholarship on the line, or if they’re playing for their next contract.

It is much simpler at this level.

The biggest concern most of the players at Los Alamos High School have is whether they can beat Albuquerque Academy, Capital and Española Valley, and that’s the way it should be.

When you watch a game at Sullivan Field, you can tell the players love what they are doing.

When they score, the sense of joy is overwhelming. When they lose, the pain they feel is real. There is a sense of unity that is impossible to accomplish at most other levels, where the players on your team are ultimately your competition, for playing time and salary. The game just is not the same.

At a time when sports are dividing the nation and taking away a lot of the fun of the game, high school sports have the ability to do the opposite.

High school teams can unite a community better than anything else, and that is more important now than ever before.

On Friday nights, the community can come together at Sullivan Field and root on the Los Alamos High School Hilltoppers. For just a few hours, nothing else in the outside world matters.

The community can watch kids do what they love, just because they love doing it. It doesn’t get much better than that.