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 From a considerable distance, what I mainly remember about high school football practice is … squinting.

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Monte Dutton

In the gathering heat of a pitiless morn, calisthenics were partly conducted from on the back: raising the legs six inches off the ground, holding, holding, out, in, out, in … little more than a silhouette of the coach against the burning background, yelling “Hold it! Hold it!” Finally … “Down!” Or those upside-down rides on the invisible bicycle, elbows on the ground to support each hip. 

Squinting at that damn sun.

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I don’t begrudge the kids out there today one modern convenience. I think it’s a wonder I survived those August days of two or three practices, back when it was popularly believed that kids could not possibly be worked to death.

Now they get all the water they want. Hurray! Hurray! If some kind of purpose-built thermometer, wet-bulb it’s called, says it’s too hot, it is too freakin’ hot. The men will cheer and the boys will shout! The ladies they will all turn out! They no longer decide that lightning is only too close when it strikes the goalpost. Yee-hah, brother! Testify!

More power to them, I always say.

I might like watching practices more than games. Key word: watching. I did not ever like to play in practices, not games. Compared to practices, games were easy, especially during those dark times when most of mine were spent on sidelines. I put on a show during the pregame drills, though. I was going to write that I could blankety-blank with the best of ’em, but then I realized that the words would now be considered offensive.

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Nowadays, football players are occupied for most of the summer. It’s sort of like the fair. They pitch and catch competitively. They roll gigantic tires over and over. There’s apparently little time to work in the mill or, for that matter, a mill in which to work. Me? I spent my summer as a hay-hauling man, and it paid the same as football. Nothing. I had a half-dozen teammates who got off the bus when we got home from a road game and then worked a half-shift in the Joanna cotton mill. I knew several who arrived to practice late because they drove schoolbuses. It made me want to drive a schoolbus.

Students drove schoolbuses! In retrospect, it seems they were every bit as safe as buses today. Then again, I don’t ride a lot of them. Kids knew how to do stuff then. They could drive a stick. My cousin Cathy must have had the longest route in the district. She loved it, hauling kids all the way to the banks of the lake and back. She was a responsible girl who loved making that money.

I really had no idea how much I loved playing football while I played it.

That’s one of the reasons why I was out watching football teams practicing on Friday morning. Another is that it makes me a modest living. Another is it’s the reason I make the modest living this way.