Throwback Thursday: Under those Friday Night Lights

This is an editorial I wrote for the Burlington Times-News in August of 2014 to kick off the start of high school football season. Many forget that I began my newspaper career as a sports writer — dating back to when I was 12 years old writing for a weekly publication in my hometown. Most of the things I used to cover as a sports writer I don’t miss at all. In fact, I’m not even a fan of most sports anymore. But I always liked covering high school football. I compiled some of the reasons in this editorial. And I’m looking forward to a feeling of fall in the air.

No matter how much we might not like it, the world of big-time, big-money college athletics is always in a state of flux these days. Everything, it seems, changes.

Coaches come and go in a revolving door, players of almost cartoonish sizes depart early for a variety of reasons, conferences realign, longtime rivalries vanish, geography is out the window, absurd travel distances make it impossible for fans to follow their favorite teams and, most recently, it looks like the football players, and perhaps basketball players, will get some form of payment from academic institutions to take the field or court.

Might as well just call them pros and get on with it.

Yes, we’re a little naïve, call us idealistic. We like simpler times, less complicated times, less money-driven times.

That’s why we like high school football, which starts tonight for teams in Alamance County and across North Carolina. It remains a true bastion of amateur athletics performed in a mini-spectacle on campuses in cities and out in the country. There’s music, food and competition. And sometimes, the littlest guy still has a chance to get in the game and earn a few well-deserved cheers for all those hours of practice in the August heat.

What else? Well …

We like seeing the light standards at stadiums glowing in the distance as dusk spins toward nightfall.

And the background sounds of a marching band rehearsing amid the shrill whistle of coaches as we approach the gate.

It’s hard to beat the sight of a stadium’s turf, freshly mowed, and sectioned by impossibly white lines marking the yardage and goal lines.

And then there’s the smell of hot dogs cooking and popcorn popping.

We love that a high school team’s boosters roll up their sleeves and plop chili on those hot dogs as opposed to college boosters who plop their names on the bottoms of checks.

And we note that some parents in the stands are there only to see the band. As former band nerds, we love that, too.

Remember that the kids directing traffic in a makeshift parking lot are probably high school students. Give them a break.

But save some sympathy for the refs. After all, they have other jobs by day. Most are calling games on Friday because they just like it.

And it earns some extra money, too.

We’ll bet that someone you know is probably working on the chain crew.

In the dog days of August, high school football is the first reminder that fall — and cooler weather — is ahead.

But mostly we like that the players are all kids you either know, or you know their mamas and daddies, aunts and uncles, grandmas and grandpas. They live in the neighborhood, hang out at the shopping malls or work part-time at a drive-thru window.

High school football is Americana. We’ll take that by the bushel basket.

And we hope that never changes.


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