I will not permit 30 men to travel 400 miles merely to agitate a bag of wind!
Andrew Dickson White
August in Texas. When you step outside of the house, it feels as though you are walking into an oven. The heat and humidity sap your soul. A mere walk to the mailbox leaves you drenched in sweat. This can only mean one thing. Football season has arrived with the accompanying smell of a freshly mowed field and the smack of pads on the first day of contact (after 5 non-contact practices). The shrill blast of the coach’s whistle mingles with the sound of the marching band practicing nearby. The rules are a lot different than when I was in school. High school teams rarely have two practices a day for ten days before school starts. New rules prohibit that to prevent heat related issues (though that was never a problem when I was in school). But on the first day of practice, all things seem possible. Every team has a shot at making the playoffs or reaching the state championship, or at least they can dream of it.
It is no exaggeration that football is a civil religion in the state of Texas, particularly high school football. It brings people of all backgrounds, religions, and races together. I live in a town where things shut down on Friday nights in the fall when the team is playing. My house is a few blocks from the stadium and I can hear the PA from the stadium from my front porch. I grew up in the Golden Triangle area of Texas (Beaumont, Port Arthur, & Orange) which is often called the football capital of the world given all the professional players who come from there. Truthfully, football provides people an escape from the area, which if like me, you grew up in Port Arthur, you completely understand.
High School ball has been around for well over a century. For many years, the first high school game was reported as taking place in 1894 between Ball High of Galveston and Texas A&M (a college playing its first game). However, 2001 research uncovered a game between Ball High and the Rugbys of Sealy on Christmas Eve, 1892. It gets a bit muddled though, because Ball High played city teams, YMCA teams, and even college teams and the players didn’t actually have to be in high school. Others point to the first game between school sponsored teams as having taken place in 1900 when St. Matthews Grammar School of Dallas took on the Wall School of Honey Grove. Of course, these early games bore little resemblance to those we watch today, more rugby than football and more brawn the finesse. Source
I married a girl from Missouri. She was an athlete in high school (volleyball). I remember when I took her to her first high school football game in Texas. She said “This isn’t a game. It’s a spectacle.” I suppose it is, with marching bands, cheerleaders, dancing girls, and the game itself. Sometimes the half time shows are better than the games. It was quite different than what she grew up watching in Missouri. Growing up she was a bit of a tom boy and can throw a tight spiral and debate the finer points of a 3-4 defense vs. a 4-3 with the best of them. I actually think she’d make a good coach. Actually, she is a good coach having coached volleyball and soccer at her high school. I mean she’d make a good football coach.
Football, like other sports, has the power to bring people together. When I run into a fellow Saints fan, I have an instant friend no matter our differences in background, skin color, or political beliefs. When I meet a fellow native of Port Arthur, we bond over our mutual dislike of Port Neches-Groves High School. With fellow LSU fans, we discussed our desire to “Fire Les! Win More!” and our dislike of Alabama, though with a new coach in Baton Rouge, I guess we’ll have to have something else to complain about. There are many ways to develop self-discipline, teamwork, and to build character. Sport, be it football or softball, is merely one of those ways. If coached and taught correctly, those lessons, not the actual game, will last a lifetime and provide a basis for future success.
So this fall as you watch your favorite teams on the television, try to take some time on a Friday to catch your local high school game. Most of the kids you’ll see on the field will never play again after their final game of their senior season. At least for now, high school football is free from the influences of agents and television contracts. It’s probably naïve of me to still think of it as “pure”, but at least in a small way, it is. Here are the high schools I cheer for:
Port Arthur Memorial (my hometown)
La Porte (where I live)
Anyone who plays Deer Park
Anyone who plays PNG
I would be remiss if I did not end this by saying “Geaux Tigers! Geaux Saints!” I do not have high hopes for a successful season from either of them this year.