November 02, 2012

the real friday night lights.

A confession -- I still don't understand how football works. I know the basics: the scoring system, the end zone, touchdowns, tackles. But in terms of critiquing good plays, smart strategies and dumb moves... I'm lost.

I blame this on my Canadian upbringing. Football was that American sport where large men piled on top of each other and the ball didn't move much. My boredom with the sport may also have had something to do with growing up in a hockey family -- hockey is fast-paced, the puck moves around a lot more than the pigskin, and there are less lines to deal with -- only five! Plus they're colour-coded. Nice.

Also, the whole high school football thing doesn't really exist in Canada. Sure, Canadian high schools have football teams... probably... somewhere. Maybe. But the jocks that all the girls want to date in Canadian high schools are the right wing forwards or the libero on the volleyball team. QB? What's a QB? A... quesedilla burrito? Sounds okay. I prefer fajitas.

We've been in Michigan for over a year now and have almost reached the end of another high school football season. When we moved here we were stunned at the size of high school football stadiums -- stadiums that dwarfed my alma mater's stadium, stadiums with enormous lights blazing onto astroturf, stadiums right next to glimmering lakes that reflect the waving of the giant American flag standing guard. Our interest piqued, we decided to go to a Friday night football game.

The strange phenomenon of the high school football culture has completely blown our minds.

If you've ever wondered why Hollywood is flooded with so many high school football-themed movies (Friday Night Lights, Remember the Titans and The Blind Side, to name a few), I can assuredly say that the reason for this lies in the complete hothouse of drama and chaos that takes place during a Friday night football game.

First of all, the football players themselves. These guys are just pulsing with adrenaline and so focussed on the game that they don't notice the late October temperatures or the cute water girls who poke into their huddles to pass around gatorade and winks. Okay, maybe not winks. But that's somewhere in the back of their minds, I'm sure. Then there are the coaches who just about lose their minds screaming at either their players or the refs. They march out on the field, faces red, shoulders hunched, only to have a yellow penalty flag thrown at their feet (resulting in more anger).

Then, the fans: I had never realized this before, but there's a Students Only section of the stands. This area houses hundreds of raucous high school students who scream and pound the bleachers and coat their faces with layers of warpaint. Beside them is where the Marching Band sits when they're not dancing around the field. These kids, dressed in their super goofy (yet somehow impressive) marching band outfits, spend the game sporadically bursting into pump-up music then put on a real show during halftime... usually an attempt at a current Lady GaGa hit. Yikes.

The rest of the crowd consists of parents and siblings and next door neighbours. All of these people are wearing The North Face coats. I kid you not. Not sure if they're the official sponsor of high school football or something, but Wayne and I enjoyed counting how many of these jackets walked past us. Around us parents are discussing how to housetrain a golden retriever, how the swim team will do this season, and how they think the vote will go this year. More recent high school grads, back for homecoming, reminisce about games that happened back in the day. Snarky middle school girls parade back and forth along the stands, anticipating the day when they can sit in the hallowed student-only section. One of the girls calls to another in the stands, "Wow, I can't believe it, you actually came to a game..." The girl sitting in the bleachers stiffens and calls back "What do you mean? I'm always at the games!" The first girl laughs carelessly and walks on, a posse of diet Pepsi-toting friends following behind her.

So incredibly glad not to be that age anymore.

Another group of girls walks by -- high school girls coming back from the concession stand with hot chocolate in their hands, undoubtedly to help them warm up since their outfits consists of thin leggings and trendy cardigans in the 45 degree F weather. We're hit with a cloud of teenage perfume, a smell that brings me right back to the hallways of my own high school.

Amidst all this teenage drama is pure chaotic fun being had by an innumerable amount of little kids -- kids who have been set completely free (within the bounds of the stadium) to run and run and run and run and spend sweaty little handfuls of dimes on sweaty little handfuls of candy. By the beginning of the second quarter these tots have hit an all-time sugar high and with perma-wide eyes are providing a constant flow of commentary to their parents about the happenings around the field.

The halftime show courtesy of the marching band brings enthusiastic cheering from parents, and Wayne and I laugh into our mittens when the homecoming king and queen parade down a red carpet into the centre of the field to be crowned while sitting in plastic chairs-turned-to-thrones. We think it's completely absurd, but I'm sure that everyone around us would disagree. "I love this part of homecoming," says one middle-aged man. "It's just so fun for the kids." You're entitled to your own opinion, sir.

By the fourth quarter, the sugar-hyped kids have completely and fully crashed. They lean into their parents' shoulders, whining about how cold they are and how annoying their brother is and "When are we going to go hoooooommmmmmme?" The underdressed high school girls have surrendered fashion to warmth and have somehow produced North Face jackets to fight the cold. The football players know they've got the game under control, and we've decided that they don't need us there to help them finish up. We sneak out early to avoid the post-game traffic jams and are quite alright with missing the end of the game if it means warming up. Those metal bleachers are cold.

It's a whole different world, that stadium. We enjoy going to the games, but we're perfectly okay with the fact that we missed out on our own high school football experience. It's a rather chilly hobby, and I don't know that I could afford a North Face jacket.


  1. This post inspired me to watch Drumline, so I did. It sounds like lots of fun! Minus the cold.

  2. Depending on where you are, high school basketball is just as big a deal down there as football. Except it's indoors, so it's not quite as epic, but not as weather-prone either. As for kids' hockey in Canada, it doesn't really compare because hockey—or sport in general—is a wholly separate activity tied to where you live, rather than where you go to school. This is why it's not unheard of for a village of 300 to have their own arena, while Canadian high school gyms don't even have bleachers.

    As for volleyball? Well for starters, Calvin doesn't even have a men's team.