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The View From Pluto: Friday Night Lights Shine Bright in Northeast Ohio

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High school football kicked off this past week across Ohio with fewer kids on the field. A study from the National Federation of State High School Associations shows the number of kids playing football declined for the second year in a row – down by about 50,000 over two years. The study also says, however, that football remains the most popular boys' sport. 

WKSU commentator Terry Pluto said football can be beneficial for kids, if it’s approached the right away. 

From big time to small town

Week one in Northeast Ohio saw a matchup of two powerhouse schools. Three-time defending Division I state champs, Archbishop Hoban, beat St. Ignatius, 21-14.

"Both programs have kids that are going to be going to Ohio State or all the top schools," Pluto said. 

And, while it's exciting to watch potential future stars on the field, Pluto said parents and players need to keep it in perspective. 

"If a parent is pushing their kid to play high school football in order to get a Division 1 football scholarship, you really should look yourself in the mirror and ask why you're doing this," he said.

There are about 120 Division I colleges in the country with about 2,500 total scholarships available every year. There are more than 45,000 high school football players in Ohio alone. 

Pluto said the goal should be to enjoy the sport, whether you're playing for a powerhouse or a small school that has seen success like Manchester and Mogadore.

"Jim France has been coaching [at Manchester] for 48 years and has amassed 383 wins, more than any coach in Ohio high school football history. He's coaching grandkids of players that he had coached," he said.

Pluto said at Mogadore, there's likely been a couple players who have gone on to a Division I school, but most end up playing at the University of Mount Union or Case Western Reserve University.

Then, there's inner-city Cinderella stories like Akron East.

"For many years, they were terrible. It helped that they remodeled the school. And they got a new coach," Pluto said.

Last year, East beat the division powerhouse, Butchel, to win the city series. 

Less participation

But, then there's bad teams, like Akron North and Cuyahoga Falls. Neither school won a game last year.

"They have a hard time getting kids to play. And people say it's because of concussions. But the real reason is, playing football is hard. It's hard on your body," Pluto said.

Off-the-field benefits

Pluto said the sport does have its benefits off the field.

"Good team or bad team, you'll make friends that will be around for a long time," he said. "And you have to have the right coach. Coaches need to realize that this isn't their path to Ohio State or the NFL either. The right kind of coach and right kind of voice can add to a young man's life."



Amanda Rabinowitz is the host of “All Things Considered” on Ideastream Public Media.