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A former Marine gives a reminder about the mission of high school sports

My day was not going well. A high school student was giving me grief on Twitter for trying to offer an observation with which he didn't agree.

Some teenagers don't know the difference between criticism and sarcasm; critiquing and advising.

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That caused me to sit in the bleachers at the Sherman Oaks Notre Dame baseball stadium to write a column about entitlement and how it's disrupting high school sports.

From coaches too scared to call out a player for fear he'll abandon ship to administrators too intimidated to confront complaining parents with influential job titles, the internal debates and politics produce soap-opera-like drama.

Remember when coaches used to hold closed-door meetings and weren't afraid to speak the truth without fear of being surreptitiously taped on a smartphone or wondering if offering a blunt assessment might ruin a relationship permanently?

It used to be playing time was earned, not given; that sweats and helmet stars were handed out based on hard work, not potential; that athletes cared more about winning than likes on Twitter.

Fortunately, the day ended with a little inspiration and a reminder of what has motivated me to report on high school sports year after year.

A man who graduated from Notre Dame ran into former Knights assistant football coach Jeff Kraemer.

"I just want to thank you," he told Kraemer.

"For what?" Kraemer said.

The man mentioned the lessons he learned playing junior varsity football for Kraemer and that when he was in the Marines and in a firefight in the Middle East, he thought of his football days.

"I remember being so scared," he told me under the Notre Dame press box. "You're taking deep breaths and thinking, 'I have to push through.' I remember being pushed to the limit by football coaches. You can't quit. It's the same as a police detective. You get into tough spots. You can't quit on fellow officers. You think you're reaching your limit and coaches show you that you have more in you."

He told the story of a speech he made at his grandmother's funeral.

"I fell asleep and was late to practice one day," he said. "I had to do bear crawls. My grandma ran out onto the field and yelled at the coaches. I finished. I wasn't going to quit and I learned I had no limits. I was going to push myself."

Until hearing about the story, Kraemer didn't know anything about his former student's time in the Marines or the impact the coach had made.

"I felt honored and humbled," he said. "Football is a game of teaching life lessons, and I'm glad I played a very small part in his life."

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The man asked to withhold his name because he's in law enforcement and needs to protect his identity. He said he now has a teenager playing sports. The only entitlement he seeks is a coach who will teach life lessons to his child.

It's a reminder of why so many people continue to believe in the real mission of high school sports.

Twitter: @latsondheimer

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