Small town sports foster sense of community
February 3, 2012
This opinion piece won second place in the sports column category in the 2012 Collegiate Better Newspaper Contest sponsored by the Wisconsin Newspaper Association Foundation. Read more
In small towns like mine, sports are the pulse that keeps the town going. Small sports can be a way to keep peoples’ minds off their everyday problems. When you are an athlete in a small town, you are a hero in the town. In small towns, student-athletes often play three sports a year. The best players on the football team are typically also the best athletes on the basketball and baseball team as well. Due to the small class size, almost everyone in the class has to play three sports in order to have enough for a team, making it almost impossible to concentrate on one sport.
As a former small town athlete, I know the feeling of having everyone waving to you and asking questions about the upcoming game. All the adults who are still living in their glory days have stories about when they played. They seem to forget the pressure of being a high school athlete and have high expectations for the athletes. They often get together at the local restaurant, sipping coffee, and talking about what the coach could have done better, and who should be getting more playing time. The coaches have many “assistant coaches” who think they know better you could say.
During the fall on Friday nights, the whole town stops and goes out to field hours before the game to tailgate. Little kids play pickup games and dream about the future when they will get to put on the school colors and come running out to the pep band under the Friday night lights. If the football team does not win a game, which has unfortunately been the case in my town recently, or if they crush every team, the stands are still packed with supporters. There is almost nothing else to do in the town and the people love their teams and almost all have a personal connection to at least one of the players.
In my town, the cross-country team made it to state regularly and every business in the town would put up “good luck crosscountry” and “all the way to state” signs. There have not been many state championship teams and the whole town seems to be craving one. During the winter, the attention turns to the basketball team. The players are treated like kings and often given free pizza at the local restaurant.
Small town rivalries mean everything and it will be a successful season no matter what, as long as the rivalry game is won. On the big rivalry game night, there is not a seat to be found. Both student sections, as well as the players, battle it out until the clock hits zero. In these games, the players are playing for pride and usually the game goes down to the wire.
During the spring, it is all about the baseball team. There is nothing like going out to the park and having a hot dog and Mountain Dew while watching the young athletes take the field. Everyone had been suffering through a long winter and are more than ready to hit the field. During the summer, it’s right back to talking about the future sports seasons and how the teams will cope with the loss of the seniors and what talented freshman might step up. Many small towns live and breathe through their local sports teams. Sometimes they forget that they are just watching young adults who are playing for fun. There is something special about not only being a small town athlete, but for those four years, a small town hero.
Ryan Tibbitts is a freshman majoring in journalism. He loves all sports but obsesses over his Packers.