I don’t know if there’s anything in the world that quite compares to a high school football game in the smaller towns of America.
I went to Macomb, Illinois the other day and the first thing I noticed when we drove into town were signs saluting the local high school foot ball team, the Bombers. “Good Luck, Bombers!” signs were in all the shop and house windows. Even a major U.S. food chain, Pizza Hut, had one.
We headed over to the game on a Saturday afternoon and the whole scene was straight out of some teen film: a lovely blue autumn day, a food stand with smiling parents selling hot dogs and hot chocolate, bright green football field, players all bulked out in their jet black jerseys, and pretty teenage cheerleaders in black track suits tossing miniature footballs to the crowd. There was a brass band squeezed into the bleachers, along with what looked like the whole Macomb community.
Before the game started, everyone stood and faced the U.S. flag as it blew around above the field. As they sang the national anthem, I was sort of transported through time, wondering how many decades this very scenario had taken place and in how many towns across the country. I later found out high schools have been playing football against each other since the late 19th century, so I guess it’s pretty much embedded in the American high school experience.
The good news — for Macomb, at least — is the that Bombers won – in fact they annihilated the other team. The score was something insane, like 49-7.
After the game, we talked to star player of the Bombers, a 17-year old boy named Chris Jackson. He was totally charged up. He said in Macomb he’s a local celebrity and everywhere he goes people give him a slap on the back and cheer him on.
The coach said he’d promised the team that if they won, they could shave his head (the coach’s) into a mohawk haircut – bald on the sides, a strip of hair on top. So that’s what Coach was off to do after the game.
I don’t follow American football so I had pretty much no idea what was going on during the game but it didn’t really matter. I was there for the vibe and to be honest, I think most of the other people were there for the same reason. I asked a few people why they liked coming down and they all said pretty much the same thing: “to be part of the community.” Putting on a Bombers sweatshirt once a week, heading down to the stadium, and cheering on the local team seems part of the glue that holds the town together.