Saturday, September 01, 2007

A Cultural Phenomenon

School starts Tuesday, the day after Labor Day, but high school football season started last night.

It's a big deal in these small towns. Really, a BIG deal.

Corvallis has been working hard all summer to get the new football field completed in time for last night's big game. The sod was laid; the bleachers, concession stand and announcer's booth were constructed; the goal posts were raised; fences were put up; and finally, the lines were painted on. They made it just in time.

Last night was a party. I think the whole town came out. There was a barbeque in the park next to the field with free hot dogs, chips and drinks. The stands were packed early, leaving standing room only for those who showed up at game time instead of half an hour early. The team had shiny new uniforms and helmets to show off as they crashed through the big paper banner held held by the bubbly cheerleaders. A team of seven skydivers jumped out of a plane high overhead and landed on the fifty-yard line, the last of whom had jumped with the official game ball in his arms and handed it off to the referree. A color guard unit dispatched by the local VFW post carried the flag solemnly onto the field. A teenage girl (one of my camp kids from this summer) managed to stay on key for almost the entire national anthem.

And the crowd went wild.

Actually, everyone went wild except for the older gentleman seated on the bleachers next to Andy and me. From what I could figure out, he had brought his middle school age grandson and two of his buddies to the game with him. The boys had slipped into the stadium several rows down from us, half way through The Star-Spangled Banner. He called to them through the din, "Jacob! The next time we are at a game, I'd better see you boys standing here respectfully with your hands over your hearts for the national anthem! And those damn baseball caps had better come off your heads, too!"

The boys looked duly apologetic, then grinned when Grandpa continued growling, only this time reaching into his back pocket for his wallet. "Now go down there and buy yourselves some soda pop from the concession stand. Get four of 'em; I want one, too. And make 'em mediums! We don't need none of this 'large' business."

The public address system blared the wrestling theme song, "Let's Get Ready to Rumble."

The place was jumping with excitement.

The middle school boys returned with the pop and passed one up through the crowd to Grandpa along with his change.

The whistle blew for the kickoff, and the first play of the first game was underway. The volume quieted significantly, though, when our jittery home team fumbled the kick return and the other team managed to convert the turnover into a touchdown. Ouch--that was not how the first game on the new field was supposed to start.

The middle schoolers looked around restlessly, sipping their pop from straws.

"Grandpa," Jacob called, "can we go down and hang out under the bleachers?"

"No!" came the gruff reply. "We came here tonight to watch a ball game, and that's just what we're going to do. Now you boys just sit down and get comfortable!"

Meanwhile, a swift-footed Corvallis boy had broken a tackle and was running the length of the field with several defenders in hot pursuit. The crowd leapt to their feet, apparently attempting to propel the young man forward with the sheer volume of their cheers. It worked. Touchdown. Grandpa nearly spilled his pop in the excitement. Less than two minutes had passed and the score was tied at seven. We were back in the game.

After only one quarter of play, I was done--just not feeling well at all, but glad i had at least made an appearance. If you want to work with teenagers, this is just what you do on Friday nights in Autumn. Andy left to drive up to Stevensville to likewise make an appearance at that game. I gathered the kids to walk back home, only two blocks away.

I haven't heard what the final score was (and honestly, I don't really care), but from our apartment, we could hear the crowd erupt in unison into wild cheers several more times over the next hour and a half or so. It seriously sounded like the Superbowl.

Ah, rural life.


AmberJ said...

Having grown up in a small town, i miss those nights. Seeing everyone you know -- and most you saw just a few hours prior at school -- and cheering on the team like they were as famous as the NFL team we all watch on Sunday...

Good times.

AmberJ said...

although its never as enjoyable when you're not feeling well. Sorry you're sick!

Anonymous said...

That's a big diff between Canada and the U.S. We don't come out to high school sporting events very much. One small exception was Ron and Jon's New Norway High School baskedball. The next town (in the same county) was their greatest rival. Whoever won would go all the way to Provincials!

Hockey is not played at schools (costs, and insurance reasons) or it might be better attended. Hockey kids travel long distances to play so not a lot of parents, let alone others, attend games. Even home games can be at bad hours like early Sat or Sun morning.

So we sit at home and watch professionals do their sports for our entertainment.
Uncle Ed