Few experiences come close to the feeling a football player gets when they first play under the Friday night lights.
Football continues to be the nation’s most popular high school sport. More than a million boys play annually – nearly double the number that participated in outdoor track and field (600,097) or basketball (551,373), and greater than the amount who played baseball (487,097) and soccer (456,362) combined. And it isn’t just boys, as more and more girls are joining football teams. According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, there more than 1,900 girls who played high school football in 2016.
There is something incredibly special about high school football. Every sight and sound are unique to football season. The change in season leaves the heat of summer behind and ushers in cool, crisp autumn evenings. The smell of a fresh grass field dominates the air. There is a buzz, with local media coverage, school pride and outdoor stadiums filled with friends and family. The community comes together at this time of year like no other season. There is a sense that the players and the school are the center of the universe.
When the Friday Night Lights flip on in communities across America, towns shut down and everyone convenes at the local high school football game. Friends and family pack the bleachers to support and cheer on their favorite quarterback, running back or coach. It’s personal… and innocent.
High school football is special and unique because it represents the last time most players are playing for the genuine love of the game, their teammates, coaches and fans. For the few that have the talent to play beyond high school, football can become more of a business. The most talented players work to live up to scholarships and expectations. Much of the innocence and purity they played with in high school can give way to chasing dreams of playing professionally and all that it entails.
But In high school, the future business side of football is far from everyone’s mind and gives way to cool nights, girlfriends, team spirit and making their coach proud. Look at any stadium and you will see students wearing their boyfriend’s jerseys, letter-man jackets or custom hoodies featuring their favorite player’s name or number. Football moms and dads are huddled together in the stands. That pure love for the sport and all that surrounds it should be treasured. That 150 lb. linebacker you call son is playing for his school and his friends, many of whom have known each other since kindergarten. Parents have often known all the players on the team since the first day of school.
These Friday night lights don’t last forever for high school football players. They often get three to four years to enjoy their time on the gridiron. The bonds, memories and relationships formed in high school typically last a lifetime. Treasure them… and get out and support your local high school team!