High school football, well football in general, for many states in the deep south is religion. Actually, many would say it is much more important than that. Recently, I read an article posted in AL.com where Hoover, Alabama’s high school football coach, Josh Niblett, became the state’s highest paid head coach. At a whopping $125,000 per year, Niblett surpassed the salary of a nearby school’s coach who is surviving on a paltry $123,000 salary.
No, Nesbitt is not charged with teaching any advanced placement courses during the school day. To my knowledge he does not have a doctoral degree. Coach Nesbitt, while he does ‘teach’ football related courses, such as strength training for athletes, primarily makes his living coaching high school football. This does not include the potential income garnered from conducting clinics, camps, etc.
Many of us who follow the high school sports scene in Maine would consider this quite excessive. However, elite coaches in football crazed states such as the aforementioned Alabama, Texas, and Georgia, can generate six-figure incomes. Many of the highest paid coaches in the sport do not teach in the classroom, or if they do their course load may involve one or two ‘fluff’ classes.
Some of you may have witnessed the big-time atmosphere of high school athletics in some of these places. Part of me would like to take in the pageantry and all that goes into Friday night lights in Texas. Speaking of Texas, Allen High School’s football stadium cost over seventeen million dollars more to build than Bangor’s yearly school budget. Let that sink in for a moment. Oh, and the stadium has been deemed unsafe to play in. I guess $60 million doesn’t buy what it used to.
As with any high salaried employee, the higher the income, the greater the expectations. In some of these states, grown men’s livelihoods are based on the performance of sixteen to eighteen year old boys. When a winning high school football team in Alabama can draw 20,000 on a Friday night, the program can virtually fund itself. The potential income generated can make the upfront costs of salaries worth it, so it would seem. A number of players under those Friday night lights will earn scholarships to play at the next level, with a few moving on to make a living playing the sport.
Oh, how Maine is different, vastly different. The man in charge on the sidelines in our version of Friday night lights may have taught math or English earlier that day. He may run a business in the community. While there is still pressure to win, much of that stress is driven from within. A number of coaches rely on their coaching stipends to pay for the little extras in life but no one is making their living coaching high school sports in Maine.
Therein lies part of the allure of Maine’s high school sports scene. Those who coach are also part of the faculty or generally a part of the community. The vast majority of those who suit up for their schools do so for a very short window of their lives. Few will earn scholarships to play beyond their high school years.
While I and many others may disagree at times with the policies of the state’s governing body, the Maine Principals’ Association, most of the codes handed down reflect what high schools sports are in Maine. Most policies, particularly the sports season policy, is geared towards the majority of our high school athletes. The goal is to keep athletics a part of the educational experience, to keep sport in their proper perspective. Because of our small demographics, these policies help to encourage participation in a wide range of sports and activities. For the select few that have an opportunity to play at the next level there are other avenues to get there, such as elite off-season club programs.
While we may not have the large stadiums and the huge crowds of larger states, let’s keep in mind what we do have. When you get down to the roots of Maine’s high school sports landscape it’s about the community coming together to support our own. Most of these kids we will never see beyond their few short years of glory. Maybe that’s why those of us who follow these games on a regular basis love them so much.