With football in full swing, I’m brought back to the feelings I had about my own version of Friday Night Lights growing up in Republic, Ohio. At Seneca East High School, football was the spotlight sport, as it is in most small towns. I played trombone in the marching band and the recurring thought I had as we played the fight song when the team ran onto the field was “why do we care so much about football”. You already learned how my high school athletic career was cut short my freshman year in my blog It’s OK if you don’t make the team. Perhaps I was resentful of those who were living out their athletic dreams. More likely, I resented the fact that 90% of the attention and energy of the student body and community was focused on 10% of the student body.

In my small town there were kids doing amazing things off the field, too. My classmates were working long hours to help support their families, they were raising animals for 4H or their family farm, they were working on science experiments, and they were volunteering for causes all across the county. At the heart of it, I wondered, why do the football players get a sold-out crowd and front-page coverage? Shouldn’t the kid who wakes up at 5am every day to feed the farm animals deserve some accolades, too?

No one who I can remember from my high school ended up playing Division 1 football in college, but many musicians ended up performing in their college band or going on to become music teachers. Many art students ended up in creative careers. Student leaders, like myself, are in managerial and leadership roles within our companies and communities.

Going to The Ohio State University introduced me to the economics of college football. It also introduced me to professors, leaders, and fellow students who are changing the world.  I’m hopeful that the 100,000 people who fill a stadium and the many millions more who tune in on television understand what the university does for the other 99% of students at the school. I’d like to tell you that time and two National Championship wins have dulled my feelings about football, but it hasn’t. I’ve tried to understand what “the option play” is, but my brain is not wired that way (just ask my husband, who has repeatedly tried to help me understand). What gives me chills on a football Saturday is the moment the marching band enters the stadium.

Small Town Leadership Lesson: To the football players – sharpen your skills and follow your passion, and also be sure that you are a well-rounded person. To the fans, keep building a community around the sport you love, and also take time to recognize the contributions that are being made off the field. Stay in the stands at halftime to watch the band. Take a few minutes each day that you’d be using to catch up on the latest stats to learn about a player on another team, or a scholar making a difference in a classroom. From my own personal experience, I know that one kid’s quiz bowl participation is just as important as another kid’s varsity letter in football.

Are you a raving football fan who is in the stadium every week? Are you the person who uses game time for solitude at the grocery store or mall? Or do you fall somewhere in between? Let me know how you’ll be spending your Saturdays this fall.  




Small Town Leadership Founder; Natalie believes everything she needed to know to succeed in her career she learned by growing up in a town of 600 people. As a Certified Professional Coach and award-winning public speaker, she helps her clients and audiences make wherever they are feel like a small town. She lives in Dublin, Ohio with her husband, Rob, a professor at Ohio State and two little girls.


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