Friday Night Lights
● By Wendy Sipple
Illustration by John Stricker
In Rocklin, Wildcats screech and Thunder rolls. Bulldogs growl in Folsom, Bruins roam Shingle Springs. Trojans march in El Dorado Hills, Diamondbacks rattle in Placerville and Roseville is overrun with Tigers, Timberwolves, Vikings and Grizzlies.
It’s November and High school football is in its final uproarious approach, with some teams ramping up for the playoffs and others just playing it out for pride. Either way, is there a better time of year?
It starts as you step from your car and are met with the brassy soundtrack of a marching band blasting “Louie, Louie.” The stadium glows before you, a gigantic bubble of light keeping out the early autumn darkness. Get a ticket and find a space on the cold metal bleachers. Better buy a seat cushion from the booster club...but maybe at half time, because the game has already started. On the field the players grunt and helmets collide, coaches shout and the referee whistles split the cool evening air.
Over at the snack shack, parent and student volunteers jostle for elbow room, serving a crowd that’s about as organized as a polling station in Florida on election day. The intoxicating scent of fresh, hot brauts drifts seductively to where we sit and I know exactly what I’m getting with my seat cushion purchase.
Some students cheer their team’s every reception and solid tackle from the stands, while others take a break from Facebook and socialize in person down near the field. Behind the bleachers little kids run loose tossing Nerf footballs in chaotic, pint-sized games of all-against-all. Across the way, the visiting fans have done their best to cram every last butt cheek onto the little bitty bleachers that all home stadiums grudgingly provide. They’re loud too, and their cheerleaders are letting our cheerleaders know that they’ve got spirit, yes they do...
I love high school football for all those reasons, and for this one: in the first quarter of a Roseville game last November my attention was drawn to the enthusiasm of a small, skinny kid down on the Tiger sidelines. His helmet off, he exhorted his teammates on every play, making sure to chest bump or high five each one who ran off the field. He was so fired up that just breathing made his shoulder pads rise and fall like bellows in a foundry.
I was certain that despite his lack of size (some teammates had to bend so his chest could bump squarely with theirs), a player with his fire would get some playing time. But it quickly became evident he would not. In fact, he never played a down until the fourth quarter, and then only with the game safely stowed away. Yet his enthusiasm never waned and the coaches sent him in on a final Tiger kick-off. He took off like a bottle-rocket as soon as the ball was kicked. And while I expected him to be blocked into next week, that didn’t happen. Instead, he somehow managed to weave through the other team until it was just him and the ball-carrier who didn’t even get a chance to juke before being leveled at full-speed by this fearless-Tiger half-pint. Leaving his downed opponent crumpled on the turf like a scrap of half-time banner, he sprang to his feet and let out a roar that made the marching band sound like a string quartet. It was his turn now...to be big man on campus. His teammates greeted him at the sidelines doling out high fives that would’ve torn the hands off a lesser young man. Through his face mask you could see a grin as bright as all the Friday night lights in America.
There aren’t many games left, even for teams that are playoff-bound, so crab your seat cushions...or better yet, buy yours there. The schools need all the community support they can get anyway. Just remember to bundle up and bring some money for the snack shack.
Catch Tom on the Pat and Tom Morning Show on New Country 105.1.