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Daily Herald's 2013 Season Coverage
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Article updated: 8/29/2013 10:26 AM
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Excitement — and change — is in the air on this opening night
 

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Excitement — and change — is in the air on this opening night
  • The sky's the limt for every team in the state of Illinois in advance of tonight's season openers.

    Purchase Photo | The sky's the limt for every team in the state of Illinois in advance of tonight's season openers. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

This is not an ordinary Friday night in the world of high school sports.

The kickoff of high school football season is viewed as the equivalent of Christmas or New Year's for its most ardent supporters. There will be electricity, excitement and optimism as players and coaches finally get the chance to display what they've been working on for months to eagerly awaiting friends at school, family and other fans.

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Some teams are gearing up for what they believe is a run at playing for a state title, which this year will be held at Northern Illinois University in late November. Some are chasing goals of winning a conference championship or making the playoffs. Others are fueled with the energy of a new coaching staff looking to get a struggling program back on track.

It's all part of what has also been described as "nine months for nine weeks," because of all of the off-season preparation that goes into a season where there is little to no margin for taking a night off.

These things haven't changed even as the landscape around football at all levels has undergone significant shifts in just the last few years. Not everyone will agree with some of the changes, but they aren't going away.

Limits on the amount of contact and overall practice time are now in place in different parts of the country -- including Illinois. It won't be long before they are in effect everywhere because of the concerns about head trauma and overall player safety.

School districts with concussion protocols have become commonplace. The days of a player "getting his bell rung" and returning to a game, or even returning in the next week or two, are something we'd all hope are a thing of the past.

There is no way to fully prevent injuries in football. They are a nature of such a physical game. But trying to minimize those risks as much as possible will matter when it comes to concerns about increasing injury liability placed on schools and decreasing youth participation.

The drop in numbers is real as the National Federation of State High School Associations annual participation survey saw a decline for the fourth straight year in boys playing 11-player football. There were more than 9,000 fewer boys participants from 2011 to 2012.

But it also remains the top sport in the United States for boys participants at 1,086,627 last year. So, even as the game changes and the interest in playing may not entirely be the same, it is still a big attraction for a lot of kids and their families.

That will be evident tonight as you pull up to a field, hear the band warming up, smell the hot dogs and popcorn and see stands filled with people ready to support their school and team and their dreams for this season.

It's another Friday night for high school football. But this is never just another Friday night.

Marty Maciaszek is a freelance columnist for the Daily Herald who can be reached at marty.maciaszek@gmail.com

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