Ever since the ancient Greeks began those organized games in Olympia in the eighth century, B.C., public bodies have recognized the importance of sports in human life. Schools, in particular, have long emphasized the importance of engaging in sports, either as a participant or a spectator, as an essential part of becoming a well-rounded person.

In our case in Opelika, at our Opelika High School, we have had a long tradition of sports participation. The Observer staff has particularly enjoyed our recent efforts to go back and recognize some of our past high school athletes and to get you, our readers, to pick “the 15 most outstanding OHS athletes.”

We have heard from a number of former athletes and their families. Some have expressed pleasant surprise that they were remembered, some  took the time to say how much sports participation meant to them and how individual coaches/teachers had gone the extra mile to help them in particular ways.

Others called or emailed to say their loved ones were in poor health and that seeing their names in the newspaper had cheered them up.

It has also been enlightening to see how the nature of sports participation at OHS has changed over time, from the time when many students played two, three or even four sports to today when a two-sport athlete is a rarity and participation in three and four sports is impossible.

That’s because, in today’s big-time sports atmosphere, participation in a major sport, i.e., football, basketball or baseball, is a year-around activity. When the athlete is not actually playing the sport, he/she is pressured/compelled to participate in prescribed activities such as weight training or thinly disguised “non-scholastic” teams.

Our “top 15” reveal the dominance of football and male-dominated sports, at least in our readers’ memories. This dominance conceals the emergence of women in OHS sports which began with the passage of the federal “Title IX” legislation.

Reita Clanton may have been the best athlete to come through Opelika High. She’s certainly the only Opelikan to compete in the Olympics, and coaches from her time at OHS have said she would have been a tremendous athlete for them, if she had only had the opportunity to participate.

Be sure to look in this week’s issue for the “Favorite 15” pages. Thank you to all of you who called, wrote or even stopped by to chat with us about it. We hoped you all enjoyed reading it as much as we did putting it together. Thank you also to all of our sponsors who helped make this special section possible. We couldn’t have done it without you.