Fall sports are underway

This week marks the beginning of the 2017-18 Trojan sports season. Eight New Prague High School sports teams began practice on Monday with an eye competing for conference and sectional titles and advancing to state competition in October and November.

Stopping by football practice on Monday morning, I saw Trojan linemen pushing blocking sleds down the artificial turf field and it brought me back to the fall of 1974, my one and only season as a high school football player. The high school back then was located in the current CEC building, and this was the last season that the practice field was located across the street. The next spring, construction began on that site for the “new” high school, the 1976 buiding which is now New Prague Middle School.

I was one of about 25 freshmen who were getting their first taste of high school. The varsity team was coming off a state Class B championship, and with many of the players returning, expectations were high. Coach John Bush was a no-nonsense coach, and among his top assistants were Bill Masberg, who was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame this past spring for his contributions as a teacher, and Steve Collins, a young, intense coach who pushed his players hard. The team would go on to win another state title that year.

Then, as now, two-a-day practices were in order for the first two weeks of the season, but unlike today's game, the practices were much more intense from day one. There wasn’t as much emphasis on hydration, and not much was known about how serious concussions and head injuries could be.

We began practice as one large group, with all the players in grades 9-12 doing calisthenics and some of the simple drills, before breaking down into our separate teams. There was the “A” Team (juniors, seniors and a few, elect sophomores), the "B" team (sophomores) and the freshman team. Us freshmen worked hard to hone our skills under coaches Pat O’Malley and Dick Milinkovich, hoping we would develop into the kind of players who would continue the success the upperclassmen had. We had a decent season, and the next year a few of our classmates had a chance to play varsity as a sophomore on a conference championship team. But over the next few years, injuries and other factors depleted the roster, and my senior year the team won only two games. That was Coach Bush’s only losing season in New Prague.

As a freshman, I was slow, small, and not very strong. I didn’t play much, and by the end of that season I realized that, as much as I enjoyed football, I wasn’t cut out to be a player.

I came to that same realization about my favorite sport, basketball, a few months later. I was a student manager/trainer for basketball for four years, and for football my senior year. The only sport I took part in after that was golf, and I never played a varsity match during my two years on the team. Even though I didn’t play, I have some good memories of being part of those teams as a manager.

For a variety of reasons, a number of my classmates who were good athletes chose not to play sports. Time was likely a factor. during my eighth, ninth and 10th grade years, the school was overcrowded and on split shifts, with students in grades 10-12 going to school from 7 a.m. to noon and grades 7-9 going from noon to 5 p.m. For junior high and ninth grade football, that meant practices from 5:30-7:30 p.m., which made for a long day. Basketball teams in the high school also had to wait until 5:30 to practice. There were also a rash of injuries in football that also affected the number of kids playing.

A few years back, our Class of 1978 held one of its reunions. I was in charge of putting the book together and classmates were asked a few questions. One of the questions asked was what would you do differently if you could go back to high school. One of the most common answers came from people who weren’t involved in sports or who quit sports, saying they wish they would have played. That’s something to think about for youngsters. Right now, you might want to work to earn extra money to afford a car or some other luxury, but 20 or 30 years from now, that car might not mean as much as the memories you could have from being involved in school activities.