By Bert Bartlett
I drove by a high school field in rural Franklinton, Louisiana the other day and noticed the arced, elongated aluminum tubes that were sprinklers, rhythmically watering the lush green grass. The sight of simulated rain offered solace to the heat. Thoughts drifted back to schoolboy days. The idyllic little scene was a master of deception in that it represented a precursor of the drudge of playing football as a kid – summer practice.
For the players, not long from now, much of that grass will turn into exposed roots, and dried up dirt cakes will scrape knees and scar elbows. The hot air will get stiller and stiller, more and more humid, the equipment heavier and heavier, and the legs deader and deader. There will be a clammy pungency about it all.
The howl of coaches’ voices will become a predictable, constant aggravation. You know exactly what they’re going to say before they yell it. You become tired of the mere sight of some of your teammates. About the only pleasant time was in smelling and feeling your clean, warm laundry in the fishnet bags before practice. And that didn’t last long.
Summer practice wouldn’t have been so bad if it weren’t for two-a-days. As soon as you finally got through with one of them, it was time to do it again. And again. And again. Practices went by as slow as molasses, but the time between them was over in a flash. I would have bargained for one four hour session instead of a pair of two hour ones. Each practice, each day, each week, became a personalized episode of Armageddon. Sometimes it was easy to wonder if Hell was actually like that.
The body turned into a sore, limp, stilt. Weirdly enough, the only relief for it became practice, when it got loosened up and supple, just enough to get beat up on all over again.
I used to hear of some programs instituting three-a-days. I have no idea if that is done today. That should be friggin’ illegal, a human rights violation. Don’t those coaches have something, else to do, at least part of the time?
Dumb jocks was high school slang not particularly appreciated by the players. But it was hard not to feel dumb while doing the conditioning drill, ups and downs. This little ditz was a real blast; running fast in a stationary position, churning the knees as high as possible, and at every little monotonous chirp of the whistle, slamming down into the ground face first, only to have to bounce right back up and keep doing it, ad infinitum. The taste of grass through the facemask wasn’t particularly good. Smart guys were off with their girlfriends by a pool somewhere, checking them out in bathing suits, while maybe catching up on some summer reading.
Fortunately, bad times did not last forever. The black and white blur that was summer practice eventually led up to games on Friday afternoons, which ripened with color. The scent also changed, from stench, to new uniforms and one that had the fleeting, sweet aroma of cigars, though nobody around seemed to be smoking them. The air bristled with the anticipation of something about to happen, something that actually mattered. That was a different story.