Sunday, September 11, 2011

Friday Nights

High school football is back. And I'm back to covering it.

Two Fridays ago was the first week of games this season. I trekked an hour and a half to Klamath Falls for the game. As long as the drive was, it was equally beautiful. The sunset brought out deep blues on the horizon melting into rose pinks. All of it silhouetted by towering crags topped with trees.

But it was nothing compared to the sight of the high school. Henley High School is on the outskirts of the Klamath Falls, surrounded by ranches, barns, cattle, and mostly open field. As I was getting closer, the lights rose up from the horizon. Standing bright against the drab grasses, the lights stood tall, glowing and attracting everyone in the basin.

Walking on the field, my senses were overloaded. Feeling the cool of the field just by walking on. Seeing the families huddled under blankets on the grandstands. Hearing the high school kids running around, yelling at each other, the benchwarmers laughing about something that happened in class, asking about the bug spray. Smelling the wet, dank field. The smoky ether of grilled burgers. And the sweat of the players.

Then as the game wore on, something different started taking over.
It wasn't what I was smelling, hearing, seeing, or feeling.
It was a feeling.

I remembered all the Friday nights at Pittsburg High with my dad and brother. Sitting in the same spot on the visitor bleachers. Talking about Simonton, Tafoya, and all the other players who seemed decades older than me. The all-orange uniforms that split our family's fashion sense. I remember the marching band taking over the field at halftime.

Today, I know more about football. Understand the intricacies better. Appreciate the effort of these athletes and coaches more.

Last Friday, I saw two things that really stuck out.
1.) A bearded man in his 40s was on the track, as near as he could get behind the bench, yelling at the team. "Second effort!" "Put a block on him!" "Get your team in the game!" His face was deeper red than the team's uniforms.
2.) A father in his late 30's holding his toddler son up to the railing to point out some players as they run out of the locker room.
Immediately, I'm whisked away into a fuzzy, warm place called "nostalgia."

I recognize the games that I'm at are happening in thousands of stadiums big and small across the country. The same exact moments are happening in all of them.

One day that toddler will be ten years older and love the marching band, pretending he's part of them in his own front yard. He'll grow older still and be yelling, joking, or looking for bug spray on the sidelines. Or screaming in the student section. He'll get older again and go to games a decade out of school and see things in the games he's never seen before. Fastforward another decade and he'll have his own toddler he'll be holding. Ten more years, and he'll still be at the game-- red in the face from yelling. Or cheering. And he'll keep going back, looking down on the Simonton's and Tafoya's a generation and a half younger than him.

The 48-minute games take place on a 100 yard piece of grass.
But it happens in places much more far-reaching and eternal.

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