Football resembles economic growth of region

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Commentary by Mike Grayson

The final week came and went last Friday for Alabama high school teams. For some it was a tune-up to the playoffs, for others it was either a merciful ending to a season to forget or a game to build upon for next year.

For the Demopolis metro area (a little tongue in cheek reality humor) six teams made the cut and will continue play into November with their eyes on that big ‘December game in the sky’ in Birmingham (or Troy for AISA). Demopolis (4A), Hale County (2A), Sweet Water (1A), John Essex (1A), A.L. Johnson (1A) and Southern Academy (AISA) will line up Friday night for first round playoff action.

Several months ago, I heard Paige Cothren speak at the Demopolis Rotary Club. Cothren played college ball at Ole Miss and later for many years in the NFL. I have a football card on him from way back so I was somewhat enamored with seeing the guy in real life.

The most memorable part of his talk was how the development of college football could be dissected into three distinct phases. Phase I, the original phase, when the game was truly a sport played by actual student athletes. Phase I was from the late 1800’s / early 1900’s (the beginning) until the end of WWII.

Phase II began when the men came home from Europe and the Pacific to assume coaching positions or use their GI money to continue their education. These men who became players traded their khakis, olive drab or ‘swabbie’ uniforms for the more colorful uniform of their university. This group also brought with them the toughness, the mental discipline, the willingness and desire to play with pain after witnessing the unspeakable horrors of combat. War and the preceding Great Depression had instilled in this group the value of sacrifices and a commitment to winning, for truly failure was not an option. The result was a more physical game that began to incorporate military terms and training.

Phase III began in the mid to early 60’s when college football mirroring the rise of pro football, turned into a money game or if you will, big business. We are still firmly in this phase as you see colleges constructing (selling out and filling to capacity) 80,000+ stadiums on Saturdays and marketing their team colors and mascots on everything from t-shirts to hot sauce labels.

I read several years ago in the Tuscaloosa News, before the expansion to Bryant-Denny, a home game for the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa resulted in approximately 7-9 million dollars into the local economy. When you consider those dollars will change hands 5-7 times, do the math and you will agree why local merchants are all “Roll Tide”.

Obviously, the same is true across the state in Lee County. Auburn, with a home game, becomes the fourth largest city in the state for a few hours. Again, do the math.

A related item can manifest itself in local high school football. In order to have long term success in a program you must have special teams, offense, defense and economic development. Huh? You read it right, economic development. Economic development simply put is jobs, new industry, expansion of existing industry, retail shops and stores, service industries, medical and healthcare providers.

Note: Should you chooses to read further, do not consider this a scoop on any announcement coming from Doug Goodwin that Jay Shows will be joining the staff as IDB coach in the press box or breaking down game film from a chamber perspective. I just don’t think this move will be forthcoming any time soon. Simply ponder the relationship between economic development and high school athletics.

All of the above are conducive to bringing families to an area where they can work, live, shop, go to school so forth and so on. Economic development does not serve as a magical magnet for outstanding athletes or scholars nor does it guarantee success to a program. It simply means Mom&Dad can feed the kids on a regular basis. That is important. Perhaps an even more pragmatic view is maybe you’re not getting a fresh infusion of families (players) but then again you’re not losing them as their families relocate elsewhere.

If you think transportation is not a vital piece in the economic development equation consider the ‘I 65 Corridor’ (Huntsville – Birmingham – Montgomery – Mobile) factor especially in class 6A. Going back to 1998 and starting with 2003 the champs are:

Hoover, Hoover, Daphne, Hoover, Clay-Chalkville and Vestavia. Those schools are all Birmingham, except Daphne in Baldwin County which is Mobile’s eastern shore. The Champions in all classess for 2003 were 6A Hoover (Birmingham), 5A Briarwood (Birmingham), 4A Trinity (Montgomery), 3A Pike County (Brundidge), 2A Randolph County (Wedowee) and 1A Parrish. Again, the ‘I 65 Corridor’ manifests its presence, while the other are on major four lanes except for Parrish (Brundidge on Hwy 331 and Randolph County on Hwy 431).

In an area like Demopolis, Marengo County or West Alabama a coaching staff must ‘grow their own’. In other words, they must rely on home grown prospects since recruiting is not allowed and the talent pool is only so deep. The playoff bound schools previously mentioned have done an excellent job in doing just that. Our area teams have an impressive record in 2004 against ‘big city’ schools. In some instances it appears some schools have become intimidated about playing our ‘home boys’.

Other than Jay Show, Demopolis IDB, Mayor Porter Williamson and the city council there’s not much a local citizen / fan can do to dramatically impact economic development. Nothing other than when traveling to other areas or hosting schools in the playoff games always acting as ambassadors for your school and community; presenting an image of enthusiasm with class. The other thing an individual can definitely do is keep your tax dollars in your community – shop at home.

On Veterans Day, Thursday, November 11 remember the sacrifices – hug a veteran.

Other than that, I’ll see you at the stadium.