Texas football today is better than ever, says author Seth Godin. He’s not comparing it to other parts of the U.S. He’s comparing Texas football to Texas football.
Put the Odessa, Texas, football team of today, Godin said, up against the Odessa team of 1988, the one made famous by a book, then a movie, then a TV show. Today’s team would win.
Who gets credit? Not the principal or the school board president, he says.
He credits the parents.
It’s a cultural ratchet, he called it – the persistent pushing on the part of parents and those parents’ peers to make their good kids into great kids in whatever they do. Sometimes, to excess.
It’s not just a football thing. We see it with dancers, musicians and spelling bee kids. I saw it as a hockey dad and coach. And you saw it this week in Niles McKinley High School girls basketball. Coach Mike Cappuzzello resigned this week – just a few games into the season.
I’ll come back to Niles.
When I played hockey as a kid, I walked 10 blocks in frozen Buffalo to practices and sometimes games. My parents were so disengaged in the sport, as were most. The only parents at practice were the coaches. Many, but not all, parents came to the weekend games. Early morning games never had as many parents as afternoon games.
Fast forward 30 years, and the first change I noticed when trying to coach my sons in my sport was the other dads asking what are we doing in the off-season for hockey. I didn’t think 7-year-olds in sports had off-season routines for any sport. I just remember having baseball season, then soccer, then football, then hockey again.
But we now have them. These were dads who, by now, not only never missed a game but also skipped out of work early to watch practices.
The cultural ratchet. We’re not in Buffalo anymore, Toto.
This engagement is not completely evil. It has its good, I suppose. But it certainly has its bad, and Niles is having it now.
I see a two-step generational shift that got us here.
First came ESPN. Before it, sports on TV seemed a weekend thing and the “agony of defeat.”
ESPN delivered sports all the time. More hours, more channels and more advertisers meant bigger sports stages were created for even the smallest things – strongman battles, college-signing days, NFL combine sessions, dog olympics, high- school all-star basketball, etc.
Bigger stages have meant bigger audiences dreaming for that stage and finding whatever path possible.
(Sidenote: Years ago I lived in Nebraska — post-ESPN explosion. My mom came to visit. She was talking to my friend about his young son. He shared he was thinking of holding him back after 1st or 2nd grade.
"Texas redshirt," he said nonchalantly.
My mom was clueless.
Now mind you, this was the same mom who, when I started hockey, bought be a basketball jockstrap to protect my netherlands from sticks and pucks. She had the sense though, to ask the coaches, "How is this cloth supposed to protect him?" They quickly interceded.
But years of sports for me and my brother developed her game.
Yet "Texas redshirt" flummoxed her.
When my friend explained it's the act of holding back your son way before high school so that when he graduates from high school, he is a year more developed than his peers, thereby improving his college football opportunities.
My mom was appalled.)
The second shift – more recent – is social media. Now we all have a voice that can reach masses. Emboldened and secure behind our wireless connections and anonymity, we say things we might never, ever say in front of people.
Again – some of this does good. But much of it is not. It’s built this muscle within us, and it flexes imperfectly at times.
No one ever shouts down a president during his State of the Union. This generation did.
In Niles this week, on a team of 10 or so girls basketball players where only five can play at a time, two parents became enraged at the coach when their daughter was allowed to play only three of the four quarters.
It wasn’t the first event or the first family for the season. It was the last event for Cappuzzello. He quit the next day.
The father in question – scorekeeper and booster member – was in his face so much “I knew what kind of gum he was chewing.”
Cappuzzello coached two other Niles sports and came to the district with plenty of experience. He is also a teacher in a neighboring district. He’s no newbie.
The school district accepted the resignation and installed a 2016 Niles grad as the head coach. The district – with no apparent effort to mediate or temper the parents – allowed instead for the parents to get their wish.
(NOTE: To clarify, the board meets on this Tuesday night. Officials say the coach quit without discussion and the issue never got to the upper leadership levels of district.)
On Thursday, the daughter played four quarters.
She netted zero points.
Saturday, she played four quarters again. She scored once.
Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tweet him, too, at @tfranko.