West Point, Aberdeen and Lafayette County high schools all challenged for state football championships last week.
Only West Point returned with a first-place trophy, but all three schools became community champions during remarkable football seasons with significance well beyond the gridiron.
Thousands of fans of the three Northeast Mississippi high schools made the trek to Jackson for the championship weekend of he 2009 season, an affirmation of support from communities which have been buffeted by the recession and the longer-term challenges of a changing economy.
The three schools combined for 41 victories in 2009 and only five losses among them. West Point”s Green Wave finished 14-1, Lafayette’s Commodores at 14-2, and the Aberdeen Bulldogs at 13-3.
West Point’s 35-14 thrashing of Wayne County brought the Clay County city its sixth state championship since 1982.
The morale boost could not have happened at a better time because West Point has been hit hard by job losses, including, in 2007, shuttering of Bryan Foods (Sara Lee), the town’s flagship employer for four decades.
Aberdeen similarly has been dealt hard blows by the economy and the recession, so a championship-contending football team is a rally bright spot in challenging times.
Lafayette High, although in a county with a historically strong economy centered around the University of Mississippi, has had student families and staff hit by closure of major manufacturers not related to Ole Miss.
The importance of athletics as a rallying point for communities must be followed with equal effort to ensure that all students have jobs that can help keep them in their communities as they graduate, continue their education, or enroll in jobs training, enhancing their chances for life-long success.
Schools and communities also should reinforce at every opportunity that participation in athletics is not only a privilege, earned by academic success, but is also an honor requiring responsibility for maintaining a high standard of conduct beyond school hours and wider community involvement.
As exciting as a favorite high school contesting for a state championship is in any community, there’s a more important goal involved with every team: community unity and success.
The modern Olympic creed offers a broader perspective.
Pierre De Coubertin, the genius behind the modern movement, hoped that participation would inspire an optimistic and productive approach in all avenues of life.
That Olympic lesson is one from which every community can draw larger inspiration and enthusiasm.
Collaboration is working model for success in the 21st century; successful athletic teams provide a popular and visible starting point on which to build.
NEMS Daily Journal