In 1981, 60 Minutes correspondent Morley Safer traveled to Belton, Texas, to report on football-crazed parents who held their sons back a year in middle school to increase the boys’ chances of making the high school football team.
“One thing is certain,” Safer said as he watched a middle school game from the sidelines, “football in these parts is much more than football. It ranks up there with academics and is really much closer to a kind of theology.”
“It's almost like going to church,” Belton coach Don Clapp told Safer. “You do that on Sunday, you play football on Friday nights.”
The dream of making it to the NFL was a shared dream among boys, parents, and coaches in Belton. But to what extent were the boys living out the dreams of their fathers? Safer posed the question to Don Thompson, a former football coach and father who made the decision to hold his son back a year.
Thompson told Safer, “I went through college football and semi-professional football and it's been a big part of my life…If he brings home a poor grade in mathematics, it would upset me if he wasn't doing his best. And so, likewise, I would be equally as upset if he brought a poor grade home in the game of football.”
The only dissenting voice Safer found on his reporting trip to Belton was among the teaching staff at the town’s junior high school. Teacher Jennifer Brockway complained, “That's the way it is in Belton: Football is number one. We are traitors to the team if they have to go home and study after a football game.”
“We know about stage mothers and stage fathers, but this is stage mothers times 10,” Safer told 60 Minutes Overtime’s Ann Silvio in a conversation about kids who begin serious football training at a young age.
This week, Safer reported on the football-crazed families of today, but the boys in Safer’s current story aren’t worried about making their high school teams. The boys in Safer’s new report are competing for college football scholarship offers as young as 13 and devoting their young lives to getting drafted in the NFL.
Watch Safer’s newest story on kids and football here.