Friday Night Lights

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The utter brutality and athletic grace of a big hit. The intricate patterns of a high school marching band at halftime with gleaming tubas and ornate uniforms. Cheerleaders flying through the air. A collective tremor running through the bleachers as fans pound their feet in the stands for their team. The drama of a fourth quarter comeback. Electricity in the air. A cowbell clanging when the home team scores. I missed all of it. It had been a while.

Since my son is being homeschooled this year, we don’t really have a high school football team to root for. I picked the closest school available tonight – Marshall High School in Falls Church. Northern Virginia is close to Washington, D.C., the inspiration for a few awfully bland nicknames in these parts. The Washington Senators were later renamed the equally bland Washington Nationals. (The Nats have overcome this by having elaborately costumed President’s races featuring Teddy Roosevelt, Washington and Lincoln during the Seventh Inning Stretch. It’s quite entertaining.) In any event, Falls Church is home to the Marshall High School Statesmen. Discovering that, I immediately pictured a rabid lawmaker frantically waving the Declaration of Independence around, sort of a Patrick Henry on steroids. Maybe he’d wear a wig like an English barrister. Yes. A brash, firebrand, early colonial statesman who could inspire his team to victory ….or to secede from England.

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I felt let down when the actual mascot turned out to be a bald eagle. He had wings and a tail so long it dragged the ground. It reminded me more of a tail that would belong to a Flying Monkey from Oz. But that’s just being picky and ungrateful. For pacing the sideline throughout the game and making a few coordinated movements alongside the cheerleaders in a full bald eagle costume in 90-degree heat with high humidity, Marshall High School’s bald eagle mascot deserves a special award. Unlike the painted nude ladies who apparently now frequent Times Square in New York City, the bald eagle with the monkey-like tail managed to add visual excitement to the scene without causing a ruckus.

Upon witnessing the marching band enter the stadium, I remembered a news story about a huge budget shortfall in Fairfax County. At some point this summer, the school board was considering eliminating all athletic programs in county schools to save money. So, it was no great surprise when the band entered in shorts and T-shirts. It’s also possible that it was simply judged to be too hot to wear the band uniforms. Perhaps people were passing out during practice. In any event, they played well. A snare drummer with a large mohawk added a bit of visual interest to the proceedings.

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I’d brought my son along hoping he’d possibly connect with his peers. I’m optimistic and utterly unrealistic about that since he is hard to coax out of his I-phone at the best of times and has always preferred the refreshment stands to the athletic events themselves in such outings. The home team was down 32-8 at the end of the first half. I asked Avery what we could do to bring them back. “Leave,” he responded without looking up from his I-phone. “Maybe we’re bad luck.” Later, he complained that the steel bench stadium seating felt hard. “Try squirming around some,” I advised.

I turned to a man behind me in the stands who had been ringing his cowbell when the home team had made a good play. The cowbell had been really quiet for much of the first half. “We need more cowbell,” I told him. “You can never have enough cowbell,” he responded. I nodded.

We stuck around to the bitter end, but it was more of the same. The South Lake Seahawks had an organized attack. They could run. They could pass. They made interceptions on defense. They returned kickoffs and punts for touchdowns. We fumbled and threw interceptions. We had a touchdown returned for a holding penalty. The game ground on until the scoreboard showed a 53-8 beatdown, but I was glad we had cheered for a random high school team on a hot night when we could have stayed inside and clapped our hands for nothing and and rooted loudly for no one while bathed in the light of a television or a computer on a comfortable couch.

If only we’d had more cowbell. Or Patrick Henry.

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Friday Night Lights

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