2009-06-25 / Sports

What Has Happened To The Small School Athlete?

by Mike Organ

What has happened to the legendary small school athlete? Where have all the Walter Mitty's gone? There are several answers to the query. Players like Lexington's history of Jordan Peterson, Earl Cooper, Marshall Herklotz, Tommy Jackson come along once in a generation. After all these years, Lexington has produced only one NFL player from all the outstanding athletes that have come and gone through the years.

These players, and others, are legends in their communities. They performed feats against rivals that people still talk about today.

Lee Roy Caffey is a legend in Thorndale because he had Super Bowl rings from his years with the Green Bay Packers. He also had stories about the first Super Bowl and Vince Lombardi, something most of us could only dream about.

The answers to the question about small school athletes are numerous. Coaching is one; competition is another; recruitment by larger schools, and the lack of work ethic due to ability differential.

In saying coaching, I do not mean small schools do not employ great coaches. They do; in fact, the coaches in small schools probably do more for the athletes than the ones at the larger schools and colleges.

At the small schools, coaches are asked to coach football, basketball, track, baseball, tennis, and golf all in one school year. At the larger schools the coach will coach football and maybe track or baseball in a year. The coaches are allowed to specialize and learn more about their sports and positions. As the coaches specialize in a sport, so do the athletes.

An outstanding athlete in a small school utilizes his or her talents in all sports. In a large school the athlete will be a football player or basketball player and usually nothing else. All their athletic talent will be focused on one sport.

The caliber of competition in small schools versus large schools is another. Lexington's Michael Brown is a prime example of this answer. Michael went to summer camps run by various colleges to learn and work against college level players. All season long Michael had to combat much smaller players going at his knees and ankles trying to 'cut him down to size'. This is smart because there is no way they stood a chance going at Big Brown up high. Michael will get to play against players his size and larger on a daily basis in college, something he did not have to do in high school. Had he been in a 5A high school, Michael would have had to practice against quality competition. The daily practice would have Michael at least a year ahead of where he is in his development.

Recruitment by larger schools is not supposed to happen in Texas but it does in various forms. A larger school will identify a good athlete and a local employer will have a job opening for the parent at a significant pay raise.

The hiring of coaches sometimes depends on the athletic ability of their progeny. Recently a player at a 2A school had reached his zenith against that level of competition. One of his parents was offered a job at a 5A school and the young man played his final year of high school ball at the state's highest level of competition. He continued on to college ball were he has been successful.

Some of the small school athletes fail by the "lack of work ethic" problem. These players are so far ahead of other small school athletes they don't have to work at their sports. They 'play' very well and don't work on their games' skills and are the focus of their teams. When they move to the next tier when all the players are at their skill level, they don't have the drive to work at their selected sport to develop as necessary. Frustration sets in and they aren't as successful as they are accustomed. Next thing you know, they have quit the sport and are back home where their legend is alive and well.

High school is where a lot of high school athletes finish their sports careers. Pure sport where youngsters 'play' the sport instead of making it a singular cause in their athletic careers is what small school competition is about.

The small school athlete is still there, but the number making the advancement to Division I college ball will continue to decline.

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