I've changed my mind. I used to think that national television and high school sports weren't compatible, that 17-year-olds aren't mature enough to handle the pressure of the bright lights. But it has become increasingly clear that the exposure is a positive learning experience, win or lose.
For Wheaton Warrenville South, it's mostly about winning.
Coach Ron Muhitch's Tigers did Illinois proud last Friday, giving a clinic on how to play all three phases of the game--offensive, defense, special teams--while overwhelming Maine South 44-7 in front of ESPNU's cameras in Wheaton.
And quarterback Reilly O'Toole emerged as a Hollywood star.
In fact, O'Toole became a bigger story than the game itself when ESPNU announcer Todd Harris reported that Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald had informed Wheaton Warrenville South coaches that he won't stop recruiting O'Toole even though he has orally committed to Illinois.
O'Toole was very effective, passing for 238 yards and three touchdowns, reminding many observers of the great Maine South quarterbacks of the past.
Harris and his co-workers, David Diaz-Infante and Jim Berger, did a very good job of covering the game for ESPNU. They did their homework. Sure, there were some errors but nothing that you don't hear during college or NFL games.
After all, it isn't the Super Bowl. Mike Ditka's pregame speech to the Wheaton Warrenville South players was blacked out, then replayed in the third quarter. Gatorade, one of three sponsors, aired four commercials before the kickoff. And Nike, another sponsor, offered Bears tight end Greg Olsen for a sideline interview.
At halftime, the show was geared to ESPNU's college football schedule for the weekend. There were fewer than 30 seconds of highlights of the first half of the high school game and no other high school programming, no interviews, no features.
I can buy Maine South/Wheaton Warrenville South and Tampa Plant/Manatee, a pair of local games. But are we going too far when a team from Los Angeles travels to play a team in suburban Atlanta? And it wasn't USC vs. Georgia Tech.
It's a good thing that Wheaton Warrenville South was so impressive with O'Toole, running back Matt Rogers, linebacker Jack Eshelman, defender/kick returner Caleb Bednarz and a bulldozing offensive line because Maine South...well, coach David Inserra has to go back to the drawing board.
This isn't the Maine South offense we're used the seeing, the one that won four state championships and three second-place finished since 1995, the one that went 14-0 for the last two years, the one that lost only 12 games in the last nine years.
It looked like the 1985 Bears against the Patriots in the Super Bowl. Maine South had 13 rushing yards and two first downs in the first half. Wheaton Warrenville South led 37-0 with three minutes left in the third quarter and the announcers were wondering out loud why Muhitch still was playing his starters. Most embarrassing of all for Maine South fans, perhaps mercifully, the game was reduced to a running clock with 9:44 remaining.
Maine South's plan for rotating quarterbacks isn't working. And the Hawks have no running game at all. Matt Perez is gone and there is no one to replace him. In addition, they had absolutely no answer for Wheaton Warrenville South's superior quickness. It was clear from the opening series that Maine South wasn't equipped to deal with Wheaton Warrenville South, offensively or defensively.
Wheaton Warrenville South demonstrated, at least on one windy night in September, that it is an elite team. If there are 30 better teams in the country, I want to see them. This is what high school football should be all about.