(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.


Not much to tell.

Add to Technorati Favorites

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Melting Mojo? (Updated)

Original Post -- 7/20/05

I loved Buzz Bissinger's book Friday Night Lights, about HS football in Odessa, Texas, and, while the movie didn't live up to the book (that would have been a tall order, as I count the book as one of my top five sports books of all time), it was quite good. I didn't get the chance to see it in the theater, but I've watched it a few times on DVD, and I enjoyed it.

Of course, it left me a little bit curious as to the state of HS football at Permian HS today. I had read that Roy Williams, the one-time star Texas WR now among a trio of potential superstar receivers with the Lions, went to Permian, but I wondered as to how the Mojo was going recently. I checked out this website for answers.

As you can see, the Mojo magic last appeared, really, in 1998, which I believe was Williams' senior year at Permian. Since '98, the varsity has gone 29-31 and has not made the playoffs. Given the fervor for HS football that was portrayed in both the book and the movie, I wonder how the alumni and town elders are taking this. After all, they are somewhat familiar with droughts in West Texas. Somehow, I think that for this West Texas town, the lack of rain might be easier to take than a paucity of victories on the gridiron.

I'm not familiar enough with Jared Diamond's work to have figured out why societies can vanish, why certain dynasties fail, why certain things are so hard to sustain year in and year out. You hear from time to time the comment that while winning the first title is tough, winning the second one is even harder. Well, this is a school that has won six state titles in 40 years, no small feat in the most football-obsessed state in the country. I'm not familiar enough with Permian, West Texas or Texas to know why the HS football program at Permian has been average for the past six years.

But there are a few things that come to mind. One is evolution. For as long as Permian was sustaining its excellence, they were the measuring stick. Other schools had to figure out how to beat Permian to reach the pinnacle. You might argue that eventually if one school district kept trying, they'd figure out how to do it. If that has been the case, then it figures that other school districts would follow. The second is burnout. While success can beget success, it also can weigh so hard on the minds of impressionable young men that the pressure is too much to bear, so much so that even good kids and players walk away. Sports are supposed to be fun, but it must be hard when you walk into a situation where not advancing to the state semifinals each year might be deemed a failure. The third is population. It well could be that other areas developed faster than the Permian area, which means that other school districts grew at Permian's expense, because people might have moved into those areas instead of Permian's. If that has been the case, other districts have prospered at a disparate rate when compared to Permian. Translated into something more understandable, other districts may be drawing more people than Permian's, thereby giving those districts a bigger pool of potential players to choose from.

One case in point is somewhat closer to me are the Philadelphia suburbs, where the legendary Central Bucks West HS is located. This school, located in Doylestown, Pennsylvania (the county seat of beautiful Bucks County), had a great coach in a guy named Mike Pettine, Sr. (his son, Mike Jr., was featured in an ESPN documentary about a nearby HS, North Penn, that had a pretty good team of its own, a few years back; Mike Jr. is now outside LB coach for the Baltimore Ravens, and Mike Sr. is retired, and he was featured in a few documentaries as well). Pettine Sr. had a record of something like 300-30 in his years at C.B. West, and he build a dynasty. When he stepped down, a few things happened to C.B. West. One, his chosen successor, a charismatic coach (from newspaper accounts), Mike Carey, stayed for only a year, because his business committments were too demanding. The next coach, Randy Cuthbert, a one-time C.B. West star who starred at Duke and played a few years in the NFL, had his work cut out for him. For starters, Pettine Jr. was building a dynasty at a rival HS. Second, Neshaminy, a large district nearby, was coming on strong, thanks to a strong coach in Mark Schmidt. Third, the Central Bucks School District, the third largest in Pennsylvania behind Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, was creating a third HS, C.B. South (there's also C.B. East). As a result, the population going to C.B. West was decreasing, and now kids who might have gone there were going to South. All told, a bunch of factors contributed to taking C.B. West off the national map.

Dynasties are hard to hold onto, nearly impossible if you ask me. The Yankees don't win it every year, and they have more money than Croesus. Even lesser goals are harder to achieve. This past season, Princeton ended a 50-year streak of having winning records in Ivy hoops competition (men's). Sounds easy, winning more than 50% of your games in the Ivy league, doesn't it, even if your Penn or Princeton? Not a chance. They had some pretty good teams there.

The good news is that just because teams fall off their lofty perches doesn't mean that they're fated never to return. Tides ebb and flow. Get a few good players, get a coach who can inspire and who demands excellence, and the magic -- or Mojo -- can return.

Or start anew.

Just ask the 2004 Red Sox, for starters.

Update (July 24). I picked up a copy of the newest paperback version of the book at my local Barnes & Noble and read Buzz Bissinger's afterword, which is quite good. In a nutshell, the overall reaction to the book probably contributed greatly to the decline of this football dynasty. If you're a fan of Texas HS football, you would have categorized the Mojo Madness as emblematic of the passion Texans have for football. If you're a detractor, you would have categorized the passion as borderline insanity. If you're in the middle, you might have said that while community spirit is great, the community was overlooking certain other priorities, such as opportunities for other kids in other sports and the overall quality of its education. As Bissinger points out, while the passion remains, partly in response to the book, the school district has taken measures to improve the overall quality of educational life at Odessa Permian. Put differently, it isn't just about football anymore.

A friend of mine who is a priest told me a funny story about what he was told about playing golf when he first became a priest. The old joke was, "Break 90, and you're neglecting your parish. Shoot over 90, and you're neglecting your golf game." The same might hold true for HS football. Win more than 7-8 games every year, and you're neglecting your HS. Win fewer than half your games every year, and you're neglecting your football team.


Anonymous wow gold said...

my wow gold buy wow power leveling cheap wow gold cheapest wow power leveling
replica replica rolex
CHEAP wow power level
BUY power leveling
CHEAPEST power leveling l

1:34 AM  
Anonymous Tag Heuer Watches said...

Rolex Watches Rolex Watches
Tag Heuer Watches Tag Heuer Watches
rolex replica rolex replica
replica rolex replica rolex
rolex replica watches rolex replica watches
replica rolex watches replica rolex watches
Tag Heuer Tag Heuer
replica Tag Heuer replica Tag Heuer
Tag Heuer replica Tag Heuer replica
rolex rolex
rolex air king rolex air king
rolex datejust rolex datejust
rolex day date rolex day date
rolex daytona rolex daytona
rolex gmt rolex gmt
rolex submariner rolex submariner
rolex yachtmaster rolex yachtmaster
rolex air king watches rolex air king watches
rolex datejust watches rolex datejust watches
rolex day date watches rolex day date watches
rolex daytona watches rolex daytona watches
rolex gmt watches rolex gmt watches
rolex submariner watches rolex submariner watches
rolex yachtmaster watches rolex yachtmaster watches

9:53 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home