Monday, August 21, 2006

The Awakening

I can feel it...coming in the air tonight.

I can feel it coming, a thrumming just underneath my skin. The time of year is upon us when my senses are alive in a way they just aren't any other time. It's high school football season, baby, and it kicks off this Friday. For the next ten weeks, I'll be burning out of work as early as possible on Friday afternoons and hitting the road to Troy and points beyond to follow the Trojans in their quest for a Greater Western Ohio Conference North Division championship.

My excitement for the coming season, while it never totally goes away, began in earnest last Friday. That was when the Dayton Daily News published their annual high school football preview (online, registration required). With so many teams to cover, there was only room for a short little blurb on the Trojans, but it was enough to get me hyped up. At the same time I was reading it (in Bowling Green), I was aware the Trojans were holding their second and final preseason scrimmage (in Troy), and it was killing me not to be there.

I contented myself by reading the rest of the football preview, especially those bits dealing with the Trojans' opponents for the season, plus a more extensive preview at another site. Later in the evening I watched Friday Night Lights on DVD. I really enjoy that movie, especially how it focuses on both the positive and negative aspects. The football action scenes are a little over the top, but nowhere near as bad as most football movies I've seen. In all, it was a good way to get further warmed up for the season.

I've tried over the years to figure out exactly what has created the monster that is my passion for high school football, since I never played myself and I'm now eleven years removed from my own high school days at any rate. I don't know that it can be boiled down to any single factor, but I can name quite a few things that contribute.

For one thing, a lot of my best memories from high school are tied to football: going to games and hanging out with friends; watching other friends compete in the game and perform in the band; going out after games for pizza; Homecoming dances; pep rallies and bonfires; experiencing victory more often than not; and so on. I didn't even care about football as a sport when I was in high school. I just went to the games because it was the thing to do on Friday nights and so many of my friends were there.

Since then, I've come to love football itself. I love college football and I'm getting more and more into the NFL, but the high school game is my drug of choice. At that level, most of the guys who play can't get by on athletic ability alone, and so they have to work hard on fundamentals in order to play well. In that respect, it really is a purer form of the sport than the higher levels.

Beyond that, I think there's an interesting sociological dynamic to high school football games. They bring quite a mix of people together--teachers and school staff, parents, students, and alumni, as well as random community members and other fans. I think high school sports (football in this case, because football is "where it's at" here in Ohio) have the ability to galvanize a community in a way that college and professional sports can't because they're more universal, and it's a fascinating thing to watch. I also think it's fun to go to the games to see so many familiar faces and occasionally even an old friend or two.

And there are so many peripheral things that go along with football that I love: the energy of the crowd, particularly during a close game; being with my wife and my friends; watching the sun set from the home-side bleachers at Troy Memorial Stadium; visiting different towns and stadiums; the weather as it changes, from shorts and t-shirts here at the end of August to sweatshirts and jeans as September fades into October, all the way to jackets and coats for the last couple of games of the season; and so much more. I could go on and on about all the things I enjoy about the games and everything surrounding them.

With all of that said, I have no idea how all of this will translate if ever the day comes when I can no longer attend Troy games. On one hand, if that ever happens, I wouldn't mind just going to a different stadium each week, seeing different places and teams. That appeals to me especially here in Ohio, where there's so much great football and so many programs with great tradition and pride. I would have mixed feelings about adopting a new school to follow exclusively, although I would probably get around to that at some point, especially if I grew fond of the community. Of course, if I found myself unable to attend Troy games, I might also try my hand at doing some sportswriting for a local newspaper, in which case I suppose I'd go to whatever game they sent me to.

Of course, all of those speculations are at least a year away from becoming reality, and right now I'm just prepared to enjoy this coming season for all it's worth. The season kicks off this Friday at 7:30 p.m., with the Trojans taking on Dublin Coffman at Troy Memorial Stadium.

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