I think one thing that makes high school football so appealing to such a broad range of people is that it’s such a great diversion from real life. In some cases, thousands of fans pack the stands to see the high school gladiators of fall duke it out on Friday nights.
For some, high school football is a walk down memory lane. For many others, the high school game is embraced because it’s a break from the real struggles and burdens that engulf the lives of everyday folks day after day.
When I’m people watching from up in the press box at games on Friday nights, I see folks totally absorbed with what 11 players wearing the same color jersey are trying to get done. Things such as an amazing catch, great touchdown run or great tackle in the open field are just the kind of escape from the real world that keep them coming back to places like City Park Stadium, The Brickyard, War Eagles Stadium and Tom Riden Stadium, week after week in the fall.
What’s best is that when people are at a high school football game, it gives a much-need respite from less pleasant parts of life, such as long hours at work, family problems and financial difficulties.
Cheering on a high school football team isn’t a major life decision. It’s a time to unwind with friends, family and like-minded individuals for a few hours and celebrate the hard work and athletic sacrifice of 16- to 18-year-old kids.
The situation that is burned into my memory came several years ago at a local high school game, during a post-game huddle on the field. Standing before the team, a father that endured the terribly tragic loss of a son earlier in the week from a traffic accident, tried to speak briefly to the current players about what that program, where his son previously played, meant to them.
His other son was one of the players gathered by his side. I could tell during one of the most difficult real-life situations that a person could possibly endure, the high school football field gave some comfort and solace from terrible tragedy, even if it was just a moment.
The interest in high school football is also partly a regional thing. I know going to support the school where you also once wore a letterman’s jacket is a much easier sell in the South than other parts of the country. Fans gobble up high school football in our state.
The players themselves get just as much of a boost out of getting to take the field, regardless of their level of athletic talent. I love watching kids barrel through a banner, just minutes before kickoff, that cheerleaders spent so much time making beforehand to raise the team morale.
Lots of these high school football players run out on the field like it’s Saturday between the hedges in Athens with 90,000 fans ready to scream and cheer at every big play.
College football is by far the best brand of football. If you don’t agree, don’t come over to my place on Saturday.
However, nothing can compare to the nostalgia that comes from Friday night at a high school football game. It’s simple. It’s pure. And, at the same time, a great escape from reality.
Bill Murphy is a sports reporter for The Times. Contact him at email@example.com.