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Zopf: Simply playing for the love of the game
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C.J. Curry and Imani Cross know their future is on the football field.

Hamilton Harper is pretty sure his might be on the baseball diamond.

Regardless of what they’ll be doing once they leave the halls of North Hall High, the three are doing everything in their power to make sure they get the most of the high school experience.

And that includes playing basketball.

“They don’t have to play basketball,” North Hall coach Benjie Wood said. “They’re just playing because they want to be a part of the program and they know we have fun. Life’s too short not to enjoy yourself.”

You can say that again.

In a time where athletes are predetermined as to which sport they will specialize in, it’s a breath of fresh air to see kids like Curry, Cross and Harper push their main sport to the side to play a game they love.

And they’re not the only ones.

Across the county, whether it be Georgia-bound defensive end Sterling Bailey hooping it up at East Hall or Tennessee-bound linebacker A.J. Johnson banging the boards for Gainesville, student-athletes are finally realizing they don’t want to miss out on all the aspects of being a kid.

You don’t have to look any further than Hollywood to see the damage specializing in one thing can have on an individual. Michael Jackson’s father pushed him so hard he decided he wanted to be a child once he grew up. His music was great, but his life was a mess because the people who were supposed to look out for his best interests didn’t do anything but look out for their own.

Cecil Newton anyone?

I completely understand the importance of perfecting your craft at a young age and doing everything in your power to obtain the skills needed to further your playing career, whether it be in college or the professional level, but there’s a line you need to draw.

Which is why I applaud the three guys at North Hall and the several others like them across the area. They know their time in high school with their friends is limited, and there’s nothing like the bond and enjoyment one obtains when playing high school athletics.

Especially basketball, a sport that doesn’t have 100 guys in the locker room like football, and whose main fiber of success relies on chemistry and teamwork.

And in Harper’s case, sacrifice.

On Friday, Harper participated in a baseball showcase in Mississippi that lasted through Saturday. Wood told Harper not to worry about missing Saturday night’s game against Flowery Branch, and that he understood that what he was doing in Mississippi could have greater ramifications than the fourth game of the season.

Harper, who scored 17 and 12 points in North Hall’s first two games, apparently felt otherwise.

After showcasing his baseball talents Friday, Harper woke up early Saturday morning and made the long drive back to Gainesville so he could be there for his team.

“Hamilton’s always been a baseball guy, but he’s playing some pretty good basketball now,” Wood said. “In high school, you always have kids who are football and baseball players who play basketball for fun.”

You can tell the Trojans are having fun just by stepping foot inside the gym during one of their practices. Sure, they’re running hard and focused on the task at hand, but they’re out there having a good time playing a game the majority of us played at one point in our lives.

And when I played — I know I’m going to sound old here — it was the pure fun of playing sports that I enjoyed the most.
Apparently, that’s still the case for some players. Now someone just needs to get rid of all the Joe Jacksons and Cecil Newtons of the world, so that can be the case for all of them.

Jonathan Zopf is a sports writer for The Times. Follow him at

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