How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Those lazy, hazy, crazy days of off-season high-school sports action.

El Hombre recently had the opportunity to speak with a talented young high-school football coach from Delaware County about the upcoming season and various other assorted gridiron topics. One was the recent hiring of a rival school’s new coach, a man expected to do good things. Yet, despite the fact that it’s only early June, he’s already considered by many to be at a giant disadvantage.

There was a time when a school that hired its new coach in the late spring would be just fine heading into the new season. By the time practice started in mid-August, he would’ve selected his staff, alerted players of his off-season conditioning expectations, and put together his offensive, defensive and special teams schemes. The players would have to familiarize themselves with plenty of new things, but in many ways, they’d be on the same level as most of their opponents.

Not anymore. The new coach in question needed to make some progress—and fast. Many of his rivals have already held spring mini-camps and are getting ready for summer seven-on-seven practices and scrimmages. By the time the new man is ready to go, the teams on his schedule will have had many practices and competitions, making it hard for him and his players to keep pace.

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It’s all part of the crazy summer sports culture that has, over the past 10 years, become jam-packed. Students who in days of old—like 1995—used their summers for things like jobs, relaxing at the Shore, reading the stray book and generally enjoying a couple months sans studies are bound now by practices, “optional” conditioning programs, recruiting showcases, skills camps and elite team competitions.

This is more than simply the occasional workout. Just as professional athletes are expected to spend their off-seasons working furiously to improve themselves, and college players spend their summers on campus with teammates in the quest of better performances the next school year, so, too, are high school players required to fill their summer days and nights with training.

The result is a culture that mandates maximum effort from teenagers 365 days a year, as parents hope for golden tickets (college scholarships) and coaches try to keep pace with their rivals in a race to the top. The caliber of play come game day is much higher, to be sure, but the ability for high school kids to enjoy the best part of being a student—summer vacation—diminishes with each subsequent practice and scrimmage.

If you think that’s tough, try spending a season on the tournament baseball circuit, which subjects top pre-teen players to two months of daily practices and tournaments during the hottest time of the year. It used to be that 10-year-olds spent their summer vacations at the pool or beach or climbing trees. Or they just rode their bikes and talked about important stuff, like whether it was possible to jam three Mentos into a two-liter bottle of soda before it exploded in their faces. Now, their days are often spent in the air conditioning, so they’re fresh enough for evening practices. And you can believe it’s not the kids who are demanding baseball overload. Their coaches—aka fathers—are scheduling non-stop action, when they should be sitting on a porch, enjoying a cool drink after work and listening to a baseball game.

That’s not happening these days—and woe to those kids who want to be successful on the fields and have a fun summer. There is a choice to be made, and those who aren’t ready for two-plus months of competition will be in deep holes.

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As for our new football coach, he should be fine, just as long as he’s willing to work all summer, too.

EL HOMBRE SEZ: Hats off to Villa Maria—alma mater of la madre— which captured the Catholic Academies League lacrosse title and is a top seed in the Class AAA PIAA state softball tournament. The state girls lax tourney semifinals sure have a local flavor. Tuesday afternoon, Radnor squares off against Garnet Valley, while Conestoga faces Mount Lebanon. … On the boys’ side, Strath Haven—which bumped off No. 1 overall Upper Dublin—plays Springfield (Delco) in the penultimate round.

AND ANOTHER THING: Let’s stop all the talk about Carson Wentz’s taking over the Eagles’ starting QB job in week seven, 11 or 13. Unless Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel get hurt, Wentz is staying on the bench. According to a well-placed source, the Birds may be happy with all three quarterbacks, but they want Bradford to play all 16 games, with Daniel in reserve.

Our Best of the Main Line & Western Suburbs Party is July 25!