Every year, a big deal is made about the commencement speaker at high school graduation.
The speaker tries to offer advice to the graduates as they enter the “real world.”
Well, I think we need to have a speaker like that address the high school students the day they first step foot in high school. That is the time when they really need some guidance. (Click here for a podcast version of this column.)
If I were to ever give such an address, I would tell them about my biggest regret from high school.
I quit playing football after my freshman season at Butte Central.
In the fall of 1989, football was just no fun. I was part of a group of players who had a blast as we hardly lost a game in two years playing junior high football.
When we were freshman, playing with a few sophomores and juniors on our “froshmore team,” we did not win a game. Our closest game was a 21-0 loss to Anaconda.
Not winning was not the only reason football wasn’t fun that year. I also could not stand the coaches.
It was the first year of Don Peoples Jr.’s run as head coach of the Maroons. He was 25, and he was a very intense coach.
Today, Coach Peoples is one of my favorite people. I have a tremendous amount of respect for him and what he has accomplished as the leader of the Maroons.
As a 15-year-old punk in 1989, though, that was a different story. I really could not stand the coaches of the freshman team, even though, looking back, they were coaching us in the manner they believed was best.
I can remember the day I decided I was going to quit. It was after our freshman team was punished with the dreaded “Big 3.”
While the punishment was not nearly as bad as we were led to believe when it was threatened so many times, it was not fun. And this time, it was not deserved.
I remember coach Barry Brophy congratulating us for a really good practice. Then, he said that we were all going to be punished because of the mess in the freshman/sophomore locker room.
We all know it was a mess because some sophomores messed it up. The coaches knew it, too, we figured.
It did not matter. We got the “Big 3.”
That night, I told myself I was done with football at the end of the season, and I was.
As my freshman season came to a close, so too did my years of dreaming about winning a state title with the Maroons. After my sophomore year, I transferred to Butte High.
While I had some great experiences at Butte High — including getting to know Ed and Bonnie Yeo as I played golf for the Bulldogs — I always wondered about what would have happened if I would have toughed it out and kept playing football for Butte Central.
I was driving down Harrison Avenue one sunny Saturday in November of my senior year in high school, and the Class A state championship game coverage began on the radio.
I fought back the tears as I listened to Pat Kearney introduced the starting lineup for the Maroons, who were playing the title game in Sidney.
He read names like Jeff Raimundo, Brodie Kelly, Mike McLaughlin, Brian Doherty, Dan Foley and Jeff Hartwick. They were my friends and former teammates.
At that moment, the regret hit me like a ton of bricks. I should have been out there playing with them. I should have been a part of that team.
Sidney beat the Maroons 41-22 for its sixth straight Class A state title, and I would not have made a difference.
Still, how cool would it have been to be a member of that team that played for the title?
To this day, the players hurt because they lost the game. I would love to feel that hurt because the hurt of regret is so much worse.
You only get one shot at high school, and I gave away something great because I was mad at some coaches who turned out to be really good guys.
My son just completed his freshman season of football at Butte High, and he sounds a whole like I did at that age. A lot of his teammates do, too.
Some kids did not play enough. Some did not like the coaches.
Sure, the coaches made a young coaching mistake by getting themselves Five Guys burgers in Great Falls while the players were stuck with cold pizza and bus-temperature water.
That was the first trip of the season, and the players never forgot it.
Maybe the coaches could have done a better job playing more players since the freshman level is supposed to be about development. Maybe they yelled too much, but their intentions were surely good.
The Butte High freshman team did not win a game, though their closest loss was much closer than ours in 1989. They lost a 31-30 thriller to Missoula Hellgate.
That season record would have been different if the two best freshmen — Cayde Stajcar and Hudson Luedtke — were not contributing to the varsity team. But the freshman record never matters.
Someday, those boys will develop to fill in a solid team around Stajcar and Luedtke and make a run for the state title.
The 2009 Butte High freshman also went winless. As seniors in 2012, those winless freshmen won the state championship.
These Bulldogs could do the same. Or, maybe they will not.
But the players who stick it out and play football for Arie Grey, a coach who understands he is coaching for so much more than winning football games, will leave the school as better men.
Those who walk away might find happiness. Maybe some will join the soccer or cross country teams at Butte High. Maybe some will just have fun cheering for the football team on Friday nights.
In 30 years, though, they will do some thinking, and they just might wonder what they missed.
When they watch their children play, will they be happy that they gave up on their dreams so easily?
Nobody likes their freshman coaches when they are freshman. It sometimes takes years to see that those men really did have their best interest at heart.
I eventually came to see that, and I think about what I missed out on all the time.
If you are thinking of following in my footsteps and quitting football, please, do yourself a favor and give it some time.
Think it over and do not make a quitting decision until you absolutely have to.
You have three more years to play football, and you have the rest of your life to wish that you did.
— Bill Foley, who still cringes when he hears someone say “Big 3,” can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74.
Great article. Never could understand kids not playing my group lived to play HS football. As a small school coach I can say one of the best things I ever did in my 35 year career was getting kids out and having them try football once out very few ever quit. I also have kids who never played until their last years say it was one of the best experiences of their lives.
Great article! Played all 4 years for coach Richard’s and enjoyed every single minute of it. I know I would have regretted it if I had quit. Never did cross my mind. The only regret I have is not spending more time in the weight in the off season. Thanks coach for many great memories!