It’s time for high school football

The pageantry and excitement of high school football returns this week, and we are once again reminded about the special place the game holds in the hearts of residents from all around the Tri-State Area.

Area teams open their seasons Thursday night, when Weirton Madonna hosts Bridgeport, Brooke hosts Wheeling Park and Buckeye Local hosts Martins Ferry.

The season gets into full swing on Friday night, when Steubenville Big Red hosts Penn Hills, Toronto hosts Catholic Central, Weir hosts Oak Glen, Indian Creek hosts Cambridge, Harrison Central visits Garaway and Edison visits Southern Local.

Friday will be extra special at Harding Stadium. That’s when the long-anticipated statue of the late Calvin Jones will be unveiled during a 5 p.m. ceremony. It’s a fitting tribute to Jones, a Big Red graduate who was an all-American player at Iowa, becoming the first African-American to win the Outland Trophy and the first African-American to be featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine. He was destined to be a star in the Canadian Football League before losing his life in a plane crash in the Canadian Rockies.

The evening also will give fans an opportunity to see the renovations that have been completed to the outside of the stadium.

Fittingly, Friday’s ceremony will take place on Calvin Jones Way, the road the runs past the entrance to the stadium.

To ensure area fans are ready for the season, we published this year’s installment of The Gridiron, our annual football preview edition, which is included with tonight’s newspapers. It offers in-depth previews of each of our area’s teams and feature stories.

High school athletics provide valuable learning opportunities. Participants learn about the importance of setting goals and working to reach them, as well as the sacrifices they are asked to make along the way. Athletes learn about accountability and are taught to show pride in themselves, their teams, their schools and their communities.

Football’s important, but fans should remember that other fall sports, including soccer, golf, cross country and volleyball are under way as well. Those student-athletes, as well as cheerleaders and members of the marching bands, also deserve support.

We ask that area fans cheer on their teams and their favorite athletes, but remember the participants are 16-, 17- and 18-year-olds and not highly paid professionals. Encouraging sportsmanship and fostering respect are the greatest responsibilities of the fans.

We look forward to seeing everyone at the stadiums, fields and gymnasiums this year.