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Friday marked the return of high school football across the state as local athletes and coaching staffs demonstrated the skills and strategies they’ve been working on all summer.

Some teams won (and spectacularly), others lost. It’s the beginning of a long season requiring a tremendous amount of work, sacrifice and investment from students and coaches. That’s something we often take for granted, but it’s worth taking a step back to reflect on now, as the season begins.

As competitive as the games can get on the field, we should remember why these students are competing. It’s not for fame or glory or money or even a shot at a college scholarship. The vast majority of high school players will play their final game of organized football their senior year and move on to the next stage of their life.

But these young men have a tremendous opportunity to learn life skills from some strong leaders that will serve them well throughout their lives: work ethic, tenacity, respect, sportsmanship. Lessons that some take decades to learn, others their whole lives, these football players can begin to develop in their teens. That’s what we as supporters and parents should focus on: their development as young men. Sure, the final score is important. It’s valuable to set goals and work hard to achieve them. But a team’s success can’t be defined merely by wins and losses. How did these players grow during the season?

Just as simply, the wrong lessons can be imparted — an over emphasis on results, grudges against opposing players, fans, coaches and referees, how to respond to failure. Players can pick up bad habits from their coaches as easily as they develop good ones. So let’s make sure we’re exhibiting the kind of behavior we want them to emulate.

It’s not just the coaches and the players on the field who make these football games what they are — significant community events that bring people together. It’s the people working the ticket booth, the concession stand, the PA system. It’s the students in the cheer squads and band, it’s the crowds that gather to cheer on their sons and nephews and neighbors. A lot of work goes into these games, and many local teams have a rich history to reflect on. It’s no wonder communities are so engaged in them. There’s a lot to celebrate.

Let’s make sure we’re celebrating the right things.

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