Football season is upon us once again, so permit me to share my journey during the 2006 Upper St. Clair high school football campaign.
Alex, my middle child, became USC’s kicker his senior year after getting attention while kicking field goals for fun during gym class.
I figured that my family and I would attend the games, watch our son kick and enjoy an evening out. My wife, on the other hand, jumped in with both feet and did not look back.
From the very first game, Stacy looked and acted like a veteran football mom. She wore the traditional red, white and black scarf displaying the school colors, along with a big button proudly pinned to her chest showing off a photograph of her son in his football uniform: “Number 15, that’s MY child.”
The photo button is the official badge of honor for all mothers of children who are members of the team or of the various cheerleading squads and the marching band. It truly is a beautiful sight to look into the stands and see a wall of moms sporting big photo buttons accented with red, white and black scarves.
The emotional purity and intimacy of a high school game far exceeds that of football at any other level I’ve seen, because the fans are more invested. Parents are obviously going to cheer for their children, regardless of level or venue, but the true difference rests with the kids in the stands.
They are rooting for friends they grew up with — friends whose birthday parties they attended and sofas they slept on. These are the same kids who were lab partners in science class and teammates on the recreational soccer team. The kids on the field and the kids in the stands have literally known each other all their lives.
This depth of connection on such a wide scale simply cannot occur at the collegiate or professional level. The kids being raised within the same community is what makes high school sports so unique.
I was always a disciple of the “just in time” theory, so when we attended games the parking lot was already packed by the time of our arrival. I marveled at the rows of automobiles neatly arranged on the grass, between the “No Parking on Grass” signs. (The scope of influence the football program has on local law enforcement is impressive.)
A high school football game is a roller coaster of emotion and excitement, from the time the team runs onto the field through the tunnel of cheerleaders and crashes through the homemade banner. The halftime show features both high school marching bands. And at the end of USC’s games, the entire football team runs over to the stands in front of the marching band so they can pay homage to one another as the band plays the school’s fight song.
I have come to realize that this spectacle simply has to be experienced firsthand for the electricity of a live high school game to be appreciated and understood.
A dominating high school team brings a celebrity status not only to the players, but to their parents as well. When my son played, people I had known only in passing would want to partake in detailed conversation with me. The season was an experience I never could have anticipated. I savored every minute.
In addition, I had the good fortune, by sheer happenstance, to experience events atypical of a normal football season. I saw Alex set a school record by booming a 48-yard field goal with one second left in the half and witnessed his team post a 16-0 record on its way to a state championship.
For Alex, the highlight was playing in the WPIAL championship game at Heinz Field. I cannot imagine how cool it is to play in a professional football stadium, but it’s also surreal as a parent watching your son kick up the same dirt as the Steelers and boom field goals through the same uprights they use.
Ticket to the game: $10. Soft pretzel with mustard: $4.50. Hot dog and drink: $7.50. Watching Alex larger than life on the Jumbotron, pumping his fist when he runs off the field after burying a field goal: priceless.
All parents should be so lucky and able to join in celebrating Western Pennsylvania high school football at this time of year.
Emanuel Romanias of Upper St. Clair, a career development consultant, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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