Raves: High school football takes joy of parents to a whole new level

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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 ewro­ma­nias@out­look.com

The PG Port­fo­lio wel­comes “Raves” sub­mis­sions laud­ing some­thing Pitts­burgh-re­lated, in ad­di­tion to other reader es­says. Send your writ­ing to page2@post-ga­zette.com; or by mail to Port­fo­lio, Post-Ga­zette, 34 Blvd. of the Al­lies, Pitts­burgh PA 15222. Port­fo­lio ed­i­tor Gary Rot­stein may be reached at 412-263-1255.

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