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Armwood football rises even in defeat

The Miami Central band played louder as its football team dominated the Armwood Hawks in the Class 6A state championship Saturday.

The skies grew darker and the day grew longer as the Hawks struggled in every phase of the game. Outmanned and outmatched against nationally ranked Central, Armwood endured what Coach Sean Callahan called a "tough lesson."

The lesson, however, may prove more worthy in defeat than in victory. The process of returning to the championship two years after winning a title — only to have the Florida High School Athletic Association subsequently strip the championship away because of player eligibility violations — could turn out to be a pivotal chapter for the program.

And the school.

A scene from the aftermath of the defeat illustrated how much football can define a young man's character. As the Hawks lined up for the postgame handshake with the Rockets, an Armwood player lingered in the back — too depressed and too frustrated to get up and join his teammates.

Parents — not his own, interestingly — leaned across a railing and told him: "C'mon, we're better than that. You're better than that."

He stood up and got in line.

A simple lesson. A life lesson. And football at its best.

Such prep football moments always seem to be on the verge of being diluted in today's rising focus on winning state titles, playing in nationally televised games and propping up the cottage industry of college football recruiting. High school football has never been more popular, or more vulnerable.

Some will argue that it's those changing values — parents so obsessed with giving their kids an edge in the chase for a college scholarship — that ultimately led to the FHSAA's harsh penalty against Armwood.

Others will insist moms and dads have every right to put their sons in a position to positively impact their futures.

The issue remains so contentious that the Hillsborough School District continues to refine its policy regarding student-athlete transfers — a process that began in the wake of the Hawks' penalty.

Lost amid all the furor: those teachable moments that underscore the true value of football and sports.

I once heard a speech about emotional intelligence — learning how to deal with people from different cultures, controlling your emotions, resolving conflicts, embracing motivation — and realized that my two sons gained all those intangibles not from taking an "EQ test," but from playing football at Armwood.

The Hawks' lopsided loss Saturday ended the season on a sour note, but it may underscore the beginning of a new era — one in which Callahan can close the chapter on the 2011 controversy and build toward a state championship without the specter of recruiting allegations.

For Joseph Castelli, the school's new principal, 2013 always will mark the Hawks' return to state prominence and the launch of the school's Collegiate Academy, a new magnet program that already appears to be improving Armwood's underwhelming academic reputation.

Castelli longs to fuse the spirit-building success of the perennially dominant football program with the promise of the academy. He and Callahan can succeed as partners as long as they promote football's boys-to-men charm.

The rest — talented teams and state titles — will take care of itself. And even in defeat, there will be victories.

That's all I'm saying.

Armwood football rises even in defeat 12/14/13 [Last modified: Saturday, December 14, 2013 11:11pm]
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