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Prep sports: Is there too much of an emphasis?

February 28, 2013
By SETH STASKEY - Times Leader Sports Editor , Times Leader

There are a few questions in the Ohio Valley that are simply unavoidable.

Regardless of the time of year or even where you might be, questions such as: who's going to be the best football team in the valley? Or, who is going to be the quarterback? Even, any good basketball teams in the area this year?

People in the Ohio Valley simply have a thirst for sports, and more specifically, high school sports.

But, why?

It's not like area schools are racking up state titles or sending countless players to major colleges.

From the people we've talked to and information we've gathered, it has absolutely nothing to do with either of those factors.

The common factor, for most, as to why high school sports are so important is simply community pride.

People in the Ohio Valley live for Friday and Saturday high school football and spend the other five days of the week analyzing what they just watched and looking ahead to what's in store.

"The thing is high school sports have always been there," said OVAC Executive Secretary Tom Rataiczak. "If you look back to the '50s, '60s and '70s, high school sporting events were like social gatherings and I really don't think that's decreased."

The Ohio Valley is a special place for sports, especially at the high school level. It's not like it is here in other places across the state. While some may argue that there isn't as much to do socially, there's more to it than that.

"I believe the reason sports are so important in the Valley is because so many people use that as a point of pride for their community," said St. Clairsville resident Donnie Yeager Jr. "So many people have participated in sports, or something having to do with sports like the band or cheerleading, or just graduated from a school, that people take a sense of ownership in their community's team."

Obviously, the economics of the Ohio Valley simply aren't the same as they once were when the coal mines and steel mills were flourishing up and down the river. The lack of jobs has led to many people having to relocate to other areas.

The area's high schools have become a rallying point and what better to rally around than the sports teams. Though football is certainly king, basketball teams, baseball teams and all the other sports are talked about.

"As for the communities, our local sports teams are essentially the identity of each town," said Bellaire resident Keith McConville. "There is a great deal of 'hometown pride' that comes with Ohio Valley athletics. It gives our area something to rally around, especially in tough times, which we certainly have our share of these days."

According to Martins Ferry resident Larry Duck, who is a member of the OVAC Hall of Fame, like everywhere else on any level of sports, the success of the team has a serious impact.

"No matter where you are, if you win, fans will follow," Duck said. "This year St. Clairsville is filling its seats. And many other communities within a 20-mile radius can't make expenses.

"I feel the people who are involved in sports as a participant, parent, coach, media or a fan think it is much more important than the general public does."

Though high school sports are widely recognized, covered and debated, Rataiczak, who has dealings with all 50 schools in the OVAC, doesn't see high school sports getting to the point where there's too much stock put into them.

However, he realizes there are issues that need to be dealt with, but the majority of those aren't from the kids.

"I really think one of the things that's going to kill high school athletics in this area are the parents," Rataiczak said. "The mindset of parental involvement to see that every kid gets an award, a medal or equal playing time is going to come back to bite us.

"Parents are coaching from the stands and sidelines and want the program to benefit their kids. I think we've lost some of the integrity we've had 20 years ago."



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