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NFHS conference: CU great Billups leads high school Hall of Fame induction class

DENVER — Within a span of about 24 hours, the past and future of high school athletics took center stage at the National Federation of High School Associations’ annual Summer Meeting.

Being held this week in Denver, administrators from all 51 of the country’s member associations (all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia) have converged in the Mile High City to discuss dozens of issues surrounding high school sports while also hosting the 31st annual induction ceremony for the National High School Hall of Fame on Thursday.

On Wednesday this year’s induction class, a group highlighted by former CU basketball great and Denver native Chauncey Billups, met with NFHS members as well as a contingent of local media. Their collective appearance came one day after the NFHS announced an ambitious plan in conjunction with a partnership with PlayOn! Sports to launch an all-digital network nationally that would set the groundwork for the members of all 51 NFHS organizations to essentially share the digital production of such live events as state finals.

It is an ambitious project, and one that probably would have sounded impossible to Billups as he honed his skills on the playgrounds of Denver’s Park Hill neighborhood. Such a project may have sounded like science fiction in the 1960s to fellow 2013 Hall of Fame inductee Joe Theismann as he played religiously in the dusty fields of his New Jersey hometown.

“I just came to play every day in high school and tried to be the best team in the district and maybe win a state championship,” said Billups, who ultimately won two state titles at George Washington High School. “Just being so focused and accomplishing so much, I never knew all this was possible. I have a lot of pride in this state. Not a lot of guys make it in basketball from this state, so I carried that chip on my shoulder everywhere.”

The prevailing theme among the 2013 Hall of Fame inductees was how high school sports was so much more simple when they were coming through, and how in many ways it would be in the best interests of student-athletes to return to a method of operating where pickup games on the playground are as integral of a training ground as elite showcases and pricey private clubs.

“I think to a degree the innocence of growing up a little bit gets lost in this quest for greatness at a very young age,” Theismann said. “We see young tennis players burn out real quick. We see young golfers go through long droughts after they come on like gangbusters.

“But it’s a different age and different time in society today. The nutritional elements to make someone bigger, stronger, faster, are there. The conditioning programs. The personal trainers. The economics. They all influence what happens with kids at a very formative age.”

Theismann, a Super Bowl champion and NFL MVP with the Washington Redskins, recounted a story explaining how a piece of the goalpost from the home field of his high school and his Super Bowl trophy share shelf space at his home, and how in many ways it is the rustic piece of goalpost that holds the greatest sway on his emotions.

“This is a tremendous honor for all of us to sit here today and be inducted into the high school Hall of Fame,” Theismann said. “But when you play high school sports, it should be about the person next to you. The coach. Learning respect. Your parents getting you to practice. Doing your studies so you can stay eligible. The memories that stay with us the longest are the ones you develop in that 14 to 18-year old period of life.”

Follow Pat on Twitter: @prooney07