About a month ago, my long-suffering wife was on a business trip to Europe and I decided to spend an evening at the local high school football game. My #1 son played football at the school and we used to attend all of his games, but I had only gone sporadically since he graduated. I had a really good time at the game and when I saw the coach after the game; he recognized me and we exchanged very brief pleasantries.
Later, on another evening with nothing better to do, I went to one more game. The season is over now since the high school football season here in Northern Virginia ends relatively early except for a series of playoff games to determine various flavors of state champions. Once again, I had a really good time. And that got me to feeling nostalgic about attending high school football games and it started me thinking about why I enjoy high school football.
Obviously, the caliber of play and the athletic talents on display cannot come close to matching Division 1-A college football or Arena Football or the NFL. No one with a shred of analytical skills and a pretense of candor would even try to make that case. But as a spectator, the games are great fun and represent one of the great entertainment values in the community. But as I got to thinking about why that was the case, I came to some realizations about high school sports in general. Here are the results of my ruminations…
By definition, a local high school football game gives you an immediate reason to associate with a team. Call it a “tribal bonding” or a “roots experience” or some other feelgood phrase if you must, but that local high school is part of where you live. Maybe you went to that school; maybe your kids went there, or maybe they are still going there, or perhaps some will go there in a few years; in any case, that school has a connection to you simply on a geographical basis. There is a bond there. That’s why homecoming is a big deal for colleges; alums come from far away to rekindle the bond with the school they went to. When I go to a football game at a local college, I feel exactly nothing in terms of “bonding” or “connectedness”; both of my alma maters are 150 miles from here; these local colleges stir no visceral feelings in me. Pro teams give me none of those feelings either; I can root for one team over another one; but in the end, I know these are mercenaries and little else.
But for high school football, there is a feeling of intimacy in terms of a relationship between you and the institution and/or the team. That is one part of the experience from which I derive pleasure.
Here’s something else that makes me enjoy high school football. It’s the players themselves. Maybe some of them act like prima donnas in school and strut around as BMOCs, but to the fans, these are not like many of the “preening schmoes” in the professional ranks. And none of them would even dare score a TD and strike the “Heisman pose” in the end zone. These players go out and play football and that’s about it. None of them leaves school after their sophomore year to go and make money as a football player; praise to the Heavens, not a one of them has an agent or publicist. They play football because they like it and because they are good enough at it to make the local team.
And the players play hard because they have something to play for that seems to have gotten “very lost” at the top rung of NCAA football and at the NFL level. These guys are playing to win because if they win then they have pride in their accomplishments and can revel in the adulation of others. That pride and the adulation of others are sufficient for them; they need not try for global exposure. Maybe they can even derive some “bragging rights” from some of their victories if the victories come at the expense of a neighboring high school where players on both teams know each other in settings other than across a line of scrimmage. Such situations happen most infrequently at higher levels of football.
Just an aside here, but the bands that perform at high school games are also enjoyable for the same reasons. Forget their musical genius – most high school bands have little if any at all – the kids are out there performing for the same reason the players are out there playing. Pride and a feeling of accomplishment is what the band members derive from their participation – and no one leaves the band at the end of their sophomore year either to go to Julliard… So even with those few trumpet blares that are two notes off and which stand out like a prune in a sugar bowl, it’s fun to watch and listen to the bands.
The fact that there are bands at the games also means that there are no “deejays” in the stadium playing loud music that I really don’t want to hear nor are they shouting into the PA microphone trying to make a clever remark. Only in the rarest of circumstances are any such remarks made in the arenas and stadiums of higher levels of athletics even remotely clever. But that does not dissuade these loudmouths from continuously demonstrating their lack of creativity and comedic talent. May perennial laryngitis befall each and every one of those folks starting this moment!
The fans at a high school football game are fun too – except for the occasional parent whose ego needs to be stroked by the accomplishments of his/her kid. Yes, those people are officious jerks and most of them could use a quart of prune juice so that they’d be “otherwise occupied” for the second half of games, but it is very possible to ignore them and enjoy the others at the game who are there to cheer and sigh and have a good time. Go to an NFL game in a “state-of-the-art” stadium and you won’t have fan experiences like that. In fact, you’ll find some fans who aren’t even at the game to see the game; they are there to “be seen” at the game because such “sighting” anoints them as one of the privileged folk who has access to tickets. Those people are even more officious jerks than the high school parent who is living life vicariously through his/her kid.
How do you avoid these officious jerks at a high school game? It’s trivially simple. You move to another seat. You can do that because there are no reserved seats or special sections or PSLs or Club Levels. You pay your money and you go and sit wherever the hell you damned well please. If the people around you annoy you, you can just get up and go sit somewhere else. Is that great, or what? If you feel like it, you can be like Greta Garbo and go sit somewhere where you will be left alone.
Now let me tell you why all of this adds up to an evening of enjoyment that qualifies as the top entertainment value in my community. For a game, a ticket costs five dollars; a hot dog and a soda and a bag of chips gets me back change from another five; and parking is – hold your breath here – free. Try to get into a Division 1-A college game for that kind of price or park free a short walk from the gate. Yeah, that’ll happen sometime this year. In this part of the world, we suffer under the pro football ownership of Danny Boy Snyder who has connived with the local politicians to assure that no one can park conveniently at a Redskins’ game for less than a monthly mortgage payment over the course of a season.
I remember seeing a movie in my younger days – yes, it was a “talkie” and it was even in color! – called Support Your Local Sheriff. I think it’s a good idea to support your local high school sporting endeavors. I hadn’t been doing that often enough, but I’ll increase the frequency of my attendance in the future.
Now, before I get any snarky notes from people saying that curmudgeons are not allowed to be sappy in their commentaries, I merely want to say that I felt a moment of nostalgia at these games as I reflected on watching my son play football and on my attendance at high school football games when I was of that certain age. And if you don’t think that nostalgia is appropriate for curmudgeons either, then let me simply point out to you that nostalgia is not what it used to be…
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………