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Signing Day Sagas

Feb 18 2014

by Anna Ferguson Hall

Earlier this month, I had an assignment that I felt less than ready to tackle. By less than ready, I mean not at all prepared. It was a sports assignment. It involved football, and signing day. It meant understanding basic sports knowledge. That’s a problem for me.

True, I went to one of the most football-happy universities in the southeast. Heck, it’s one of the most football-happy university’s in the nation. And I went there- twice. You would think after two degrees and six years spent at the University of Georgia, I would be a Bulldawg through and through. You would think. You would be wrong.

In undergrad, I even worked at the football stadium, tending to the corporate, important folks in the box seats who likely had more money than I would ever know what to do with. They came to the games, dressed in suits, sometimes ties, their wives and girlfriends touting high-end fashions and wide-brimmed hats and pitch-perfect pink lipstick. These were people far, far removed from the rowdy students in the stands and far, far removed from my own reality.

I was so enthralled studying the behaviors of these moneyed individuals, watching their mannerisms and analyzing their food and drink options, that I completely forgot about the actual football game being played. That was all for the better, because I would have had no idea what was happening on the field anyway. Plus, these individuals in these boxed seats thought I was just being highly attentive and they tipped me more. Needless to say, it all worked out.

My stadium service/societal observation experiment only lasted two seasons, and then I was fully enthralled by my journalism studies. In short, football never played in to my realm of caring.

Fast forward several years, and I found myself back at good ol’ UGA to earn my master’s degree. This time, I had a little more practice with the pigskin, as I had met my mating match who loved the game and insisted we spend football season planning around the schedules of SEC teams. All that was fine by me, because it made him happy and gave me an excuse to have parties at house on a too-regular basis.

When I left my coastal Georgia home to go to grad school, this football-fanatic handsome man of mine came along. (Side note: We eventually got married, and have spent four happy years as a husband and wife.) Over time, I eventually learned a few things about the game, like how the scoring worked and, more importantly, I learned that watching very in shape men run around in tight pants is actually pretty entertaining.

(A tip to the ladies out there trying to learn about football: don’t. Instead, pick out one cute player each season and follow his career. At least that way you have someone to keep an eye on and a point of conversation to keep going.)

Anyway, all that to say, football is not really my best friend. So, here I earlier this month, assigned to cover three area seniors who were being signed to play football in college. It’s great news for these young men, because as they each related to me, without those scholarships, college might not have been an option. I admit, while I don’t understand the game, football has done wonders for high school students who have few resources to get them to higher education. I was touched by the emotions these young men displayed as they spoke about signing on to their various colleges. But here was the trouble: I had no clue what to ask them.

I asked what positions they played, and they told me, and I had no idea what it meant. From there, I was stumped. I didn’t even consider asking them their stats, because I don’t know how what those stats would be or know how to interpret whatever numerical language they would spout out. I didn’t ask about their game plans on the field or how much weight they lift or anything at all related to football. It never even crossed my mind.

Instead, I waxed poetic. I was moved by their candor, the honesty coming from these young men. They talked to me about their family struggles, being raised in a depressed economic setting with little hopes of college, until they learn to really play the game. They told me about their future goals, that they wanted to become physical therapists or work as criminal investigators. They told me that this game- which I had for so long thought of as a silly pastime and great excuse for a tailgate party- had radically altered their course in life.

Football would bring them to college. Football would bring them out of more or less impoverished conditions. Football would give them an opportunity their mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, could not provide.

While I still don’t understand the basics of the game, I do now understand the powerful impact this game can have on young lives, especially in smaller Southern communities where opportunities don’t grow on trees, where a step up in life is not just waiting around the corner.

To the young men I interviewed, please forgive me for not knowing about the game you have mastered. But please also accept my heartfelt encouragement to each of you. You’ve made your hometown proud. Touchdown!

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