Zuri Berry holds the Academic Athletic Association trophy for San Francisco section prep football after the Galileo Lions defeated the Washington Eagles 28-21 in the Thanksgiving day championship, 2001.
Zuri Berry holds the Academic Athletic Association trophy for San Francisco section prep football after the Galileo Lions defeated the Washington Eagles 28-21 in the Thanksgiving day championship, 2001.
Here I am, inspired by graduation season. It’s all that potential for greatness that has me giddy. I think, without a doubt, the best memories from high school are the ones on the playing field.

But the best days for the former prep athlete are always ahead.

I look fondly back on my prep sports days. They were tough, they were exciting and they keep me filled with memories that I don’t believe will ever die. But what’s more pivotal than any highlight reel rolling through my own head is the simple life lessons I derived from my experiences.

Hard work will never be underscored.

As the many prep athletes at our collective high schools matriculate to college or just move on to the next great challenges and engagements in their lives, I’m uncertain that the significance of this life-altering shift has dawned on the vast majority of graduates. They will all sorely miss the camaraderie of their teams and their schools, but this will in turn make them stronger and better people. Inevitably, they will have to look upon, as I did, their successes and failures and find some meaning from the following questions: Why the hell did I do all that running? What was the point in playing this sport for four years — at times, six days a week — and not moving on to the next level? Am I good enough to play college ball? Why am I playing college ball?

These are some tough questions and answers that each person has to ask and answer themselves. (Remember, you’re not crazy so long as you don’t argue with yourself.) The faster you get to answering those questions, the quicker you can determine some life goals.

For a long time, all I vied to be in school was a jock — until I became one. I still hate the idea of calling myself a jock, but that was how I acted; As if there were no other reason to be at school other than to take part in some athletic showmanship. I was in it for the love of sport and the girls that came with it. These are the confessions of a former prep athlete.

But as I went along that path for four years, I did not like the idea of being known for only one thing. In my case, it was for playing on the football team. I thought it was rather juvenile that I could be all of these things in my head — writer, actor, comedian, athlete, etc. — and yet be defined by the one. I am many things, but an athlete is not one of them. Sadly, most of our local kids will come to this realization too, if they have not already. For others, they have legitimate reasons to chase dreams of grandeur. More power to them. (I wrote about the football afterlife here.) But for all, there has to be a reason to get up every day and push dumb bells, run five miles, shoot 100 3-pointers or simply work 9-to-5. What is the inspiration, or better yet, motivation?

Let’s cut to the chase.

Without discipline, hard work, and the knowledge of how teamwork can be successful, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I attribute that directly to football. That’s not something you can learn or replicate in many places outside of the military. It’s what gives many a former athlete inspiration for what they do now, and what they know they can do in the future.

In the short term, most kids simply play in high school because their friends are doing it, they’ve watched enough of it on TV to spark some interest, or their parents pushed them into doing something for an extracurricular activity. In the long term, you do it because you love the game, you want to continue to play, to be involved or to pass on the love. I write about sports to pass on the love.

At one point, our 2009 graduates are going to have to decide how much they love their game of choice, and with that decision, how to utilize the non-athletic skills sports have given them. I contend that they’ll be better off with whatever choice they make because of the simple life-long lessons. It’s just a matter of when they’ll cross that bridge with their decisions.

Editor’s note: This column originally appeared in The Union.