Sports fans have been digging out from an avalanche of troubling news this summer. We have Barry Bondsí questionable home-run record, an NBA gambling scandal involving a referee, charges that NFL quarterback Michael Vick was involved in illegal dogfighting and the continuing international soap opera concerning Tour de France doping scandals.

So Mondayís start of practice for high school football season arrived just in time. Itís not that the high school version of athletics is the totally pure form; the Texas Legislature has passed legislation that will guard against steroid use by players, for example, and other concerns seem to arise each year. For the most part, however, those appear to be isolated situations. And at least the players are participating for the love of the game, for self-improvement and to represent their schools and communities.

Itís later, when the addictive lure of big money and glory become factors, especially at the professional level, that the most serious problems arise.

In sports, success is always defined first by the numbers on a scoreboard and the win-loss statistic at the end of the season, But at the high school level, other considerations are just as important, or at least they should be. Teenage athletes are learning to be become good citizens as well as good players, and the work-ethic they develop and the lessons in teamwork they receive will serve them well in whatever endeavors they pursue as adults. Along the way, a few of them will move on to college and even professional careers in sports, and the vast majority of them will possess the type of character and self-worth that will help them steer clear of the temptations to violate rules of the games they play or laws of the state where they live.

Itís more than just Xís and Oís for our high school players, and the importance of their experience has never been more crucial. That may not be the reason why the fans will pack the stands in a little more than three weeks when the season gets under way, but itís certainly the more enduring purpose.

Brownwood Bulletin