A couple recent data points make me think high school sports are solid
I think there’s something happening.
I’m not sure of it and I could be wrong, but I think there’s something happening in the world of high school sports.
I know there are problems in high school sports. There are continued challenges with having enough officials to staff games, shortages that have forced many varsity football games to be played on Thursdays and threatening to scuttle lower-level contests (junior varsity, JV II and freshman) in a variety of sports.
In a related story, there’s been a lot of attention focused on negative behavior aimed at officials — with coaches, parents and fans sometimes yelling, harassing, berating, disrespecting and even physically assaulting high school referees, umpires and other officials during and after games. And oftentimes, the harassment continues on social media.
There’s also the continuing issue of declining participation in high school sports, a topic most notably covered in football, but that is also true in several other high school sports. Here are the numbers from last year and from 10 years earlier.
Those issues are all real, important and should be addressed.
But I am sensing something different, something different and positive, at least in our area.
I’m sensing excitement. I’m sensing a real and more complete return to normalcy following the devastating COVID-19 pandemic.
Here’s what I’m talking about. The Friday, Sept. 30, football game between Lake Oswego and West Linn was a big one. Both teams came into their 2022 Three Rivers League opener sporting 3-1 records, the Lions ranked second and the Lakers ninth after both teams shared the TRL crown with Tualatin in 2021.
While the game itself wasn’t close — West Linn sprinted past LO 49-0 at West Linn High School — it drew an incredibly large crowd, a throng estimated at over 7,000.
Now, before I comment on that staggering number, let me share this: I’ve been to a lot of high school football games. A lot. I’ve covered high school football for 36 years now, and along the way, I only missed covering a high school football game came once, in 2014 when my daughter got to be on the Beaverton High School homecoming court. So I still went to a football game that night — the Beavers beat Glencoe handily — I just didn’t cover it.
With that as pre-text I’ll share that Friday’s gathering at West Linn was the largest regular-season crowd I’ve ever seen. The parking lots were all jammed and people were walking up to the WLHS stadium in droves from every neighborhood street.
The stands were packed on both sides of the stadium and fans lined the edges of the field, standing three-deep most of the way around. That night’s atendance almost certainly exceeds some season’s state championship-game turnouts.
Now, let me offer a second data point. Last spring, on Tuesday, May 31, the Lakeridge baseball team hosted West Linn in the Class 6A state semifinals. Like Friday’s football game, this was a big event. The Lions entered the contest as the state’s fourth-ranked team after finishing second in the Three Rivers League, while the Pacers came in as the state’s top-ranked team and TRL champion.
For that game — a hugely important playoff battle between top-ranked league foes — more than 2,000 people came out to watch the action, with the Lions eventually winning 5-4 and going on a week later to win their first state baseball crown in 40 years.
Like I said about football, I’ve covered a lot of high school baseball games and — short of a state championship game played in great weather conditions — I’ve never seen a bigger crowd at a high school baseball game.
So what does all of that mean? The first response has to be “I don’t know.” Those are just two data points. They aren’t necessarily part of a trend, but they could be. They could be part of a trend that is real right now, but might not continue. Or they could be indicative of a continuing trend. Right now, we just don’t know.
However, I’ll add this — I’ve seen solid crowds at many other football games this year, for Lake Oswego-Lakeridge water polo, for Three Rivers League cross country races and more.
So is it a trend or isn’t it? I’ll admit that I don’t know, but I hope it is.
Coming together to support your school, your team, your classmates, your children, your grandchildren or your friends, or just showing up to watch some of the state’s best athletes, is a good thing. It builds community. It builds school spirit. It builds friendships and it’s a good, traditionally American activity.
So is it a trend? I hope so.
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