For the Love of Small Town Football in the South
Nothing against Friday night lights in the big city, but there’s something special about high school football in a small town.
Some Southerners (bless their hearts) grow up in big cities where the weekly high school football game is played in a huge stadium with professionally run concession stands; the tricked-out marching band can play everything from Beethoven’s Fifth to “Uptown Funk”; and the cheerleaders could qualify for the Olympic gymnastics team if they weren’t otherwise occupied encouraging the student body to show some pep.
No disrespect to pigskin sophistication, but there’s a certain charm to Friday nights in a small town, and it can’t be duplicated on a metropolitan scale.
Usually, there’s a dad who takes it upon himself to personally mow the field and retouch the yard lines before every game. (His boy plays on the team, and by golly the home field will NOT be outshined by those showboats over in the next county.)
On Friday afternoon, school closes with a pep rally in the gym, where each class competes to win “the spirit stick.” This is basically a wooden dowel from Home Depot, painted in the school colors and waved about to whip the students—all wearing their “booster badges”—into a spirited frenzy as the team and head coach stroll coolly onto the gym floor and take their seats. Speeches from the coach and the quarterback assure victory.
On game night, parents of the players and cheerleaders run the concession stand—there’s only one—which serves hamburgers and hotdogs with mustard, ketchup, and onions. Maybe pickles. (If you want more than that, you need to get yourself on over to the Dairy Queen and pay the big bucks.) Coffee. Co-colas. Popcorn. Done.
A local pastor will be called upon to offer an opening prayer for both teams, and the best soprano in the glee club (or the Baptist church) will sing the national anthem after the pledge. All the fans hold their breath when she gets to that high note on land of the FREEEEEEE because you just never know how that will go (but she’s trying hard and she’s nervous, so give her a big hand). Later, at halftime, the small band does its level best to stretch out and fill up the field, and everybody claps especially loud when the kids roll out a new number. (Ohmygosh! Both majorettes are twirling fire batons!!!)
Of course, the real pageantry is reserved for Homecoming. Every class gets to enter a parade float, built on flatbed trucks skirted with chicken wire that has been stuffed with tissue paper. Judging takes place right before the parade, which stops in the center of town to let the cheerleaders bail off the local fire truck and lead a few cheers at the main intersection.
Actually, the parade runs out of town streets fairly quickly and extends its reach by traveling some county blacktops. (But that works out fine because the distance between houses gives the queen and her court, perched on the back of borrowed convertibles, a chance to stop waving and rest their arms.)
Every guy is expected to spring for a mum the size of a dessert plate for his date to the homecoming dance, where there might well be as many parental chaperones as there are students.
Between the parade, the game, and the dance, the whole town has something to talk about for at least a week. And in a small town where everybody knows everybody and always has, that’s what we like—something new to talk about.