It seems evident, even to non-fans, that football is going through some changes.
In a surprise-to-almost-no one, it has been proven that American-style football causes debilitating injuries. You don’t need to be a genius to understand that two big, powerful bodies slamming together at break-neck speed can damage a person. Nor is it a major surprise that the constant helmet-to-helmet contact can cause long-term brain damage.
That’s bad enough, but then we have pro football players seemingly dishonoring the national anthem, American flag and the men and women who serve in our military. Even some very hardcore pro football fans are boycotting games.
But a lot of that ill-will toward the game can be forgotten when your favorite high school teams have a great regular season, then battle their way into the playoffs.
All of which boils down to this — the Santa Maria High Saints football team members will be hard at practice while most of us are sitting down this Thursday to our Thanksgiving feast.
Last Friday night, in front of thousands of local supporters at Ralph Baldiviez Stadium, the Saints pummeled No. 1 seed Montebello Schurr, punching a ticket to the semifinals for the first time in nearly three decades.
The final score was 42-21, compelling generations of SMHS alumni to gather on the field, joined by parents of current players and hundreds of other Santa Marians.
This is important stuff for a high school football program that suffered through years of mediocrity, at best.
We used the word “pummeled” to describe the victory, but it was anything but easy. The Saints had to fight back from a deficit, proving that grit, determination and a never-say-die attitude can, and often does work miracles.
The Division 12 semifinal game against South El Monte will be played down the coast a ways, and the Saints will have to produce a few more miracles to reach the finals.
When a team reaches this level of achievement it becomes more than about just playing football. Going this far into the playoffs after nearly 30 years of less-than-stellar seasons is a boost for the team members, coaches, students, their families and everyone else who has followed the Saints over the years.
Other North County teams had mixed results in playoff games.
The Orcutt Academy Spartans won a scoring fest, 55-37, over the previously undefeated Chadwick School Dolphins. So, the scrappy Spartans move on to the next round.
The Lompoc Braves, also undefeated in regular-season play, ran into a defensive buzz saw. The El Toro Chargers ended the perfect season for Lompoc, which also lost a thriller last year to an Orange County team.
But the Braves had a great year, and not many teams in the nation can lay claim to an 11-1 season.
The St. Joseph Knights’ rocky season came to a halt last week with a loss to the Paraclete Spirits in the Division 5 playoffs in Lancaster. Still, a final record of 7-5 is a great place to begin building for next year.
We’ve been watching football at all its levels for many years, and to us the high school game is the purest version of the sport. Recently we’ve been watching the growth of flag football, a game without the smashing and hitting, and it has all the exciting elements of the contact game.
Football is, indeed, in the midst of undergoing significant changes. But it’s still a matter of working hard to achieve a goal.