When my grandson became a member of his high school band I often attended his school’s football games, mostly to watch the musical performances at halftime. When I was a high school student I was addicted to the football competitions and found ways to attend most of them even though I didn’t have a car or a driver’s license. Those Friday nights were always fun whether or not our team was a contender for a championship season.
I attended a private Catholic school, Mt. Carmel, so we rarely played any publics schools, but there were enough parochial schools to provide us with a full schedule. In the Houston area alone our rivals were Jesuit, Marion, St. Pius and the biggest of them all, St. Thomas. The games were grudge matches in which we attempt to demonstrate our bonafides and they sometimes challenged my allegiances because so many of my beloved cousins were student in the opposition schools. In truth, on Friday nights nothing mattered more to me than winning so I had no trouble justifying my disloyalty to my cousins. I only wanted to witness the glory of my school and my classmates who fought for its reputation.
Mt. Carmel had a fabulous drill team that included a drum and bugle corps along with twirlers and a marching group that performed difficult precision routines. They wore sharp military style uniforms in our school colors of brown and white. They were an extraordinary group that often stole the show from the athletes, adding to the attraction of the games.
There was usually a parent who would agree to transport some of us to the games when we were still freshmen, and once my classmates began obtaining their driver’s licenses they took turns borrowing the family car to take us to enjoy the Friday night lights. Somehow I managed to hitch my way to the happenings and they were always so much fun. They were an integral part of my youth as much as learning and attending church were.
I had wanted to join the drill team and had spent years practicing my tricks with a baton, but I lost my nerve when it came to the tryouts. I was skinny, flat chested with baby fine hair that would not hold the bouffant hair styles that were so popular back then. I felt gawky and embarrassed by my childlike body so I backed out of showing my twirling skills which were actually quite substantial. Instead I made up a number of excuses for why I suddenly was not interested in being one of the Cadets.
In retrospect I know how silly I was, but at the time things worked out well nonetheless. I went to virtually every football game and I had the freedom to walk around and just have a fun and memorable time with my friends. When I became a senior the drum major of the Cadets asked me to be their official voice during performances. I got to go the press box and describe the music and movements of their routines which in some ways was more my cup of tea than prancing about on the field.
My male classmates on the football team were awesome, but St. Thomas always seemed to stand in their way of experiencing a perfect winning year. That team was a force of nature and my cousins who went to school there would often tease me about going to a school that could not defeat them. One of those cousins would eventually become a star player for St. Thomas continuing the dominance of that school on the gridiron long after I had graduated and moved on to college. I sometimes found myself cheering for him with the rest of the family and always felt a tiny bit of guilt which I resolved by never rooting against my alma mater.
Despite my family connections I was ever loyal to my own team. I believed in the Beach Boy creed to be true to my school. I’d intensely watch every play and rejoiced with each inch of ground that moved the guys closer to the end zone. Id say Hail Marys for the quarterback and the kicker. I’d lose my voice yelling with both glee and disappointment. Those were glorious times.
Later, as a mom, I would spend many years watching the football games of my daughters’ high school. I sat each week with a group of parents who became dear friends. Our children were athletes, members of the drill team and cheerleaders. The stands were packed with fans, mostly in the student sections. I found as much joy in my new role as I had as a student.
What confounded me when I went to watch my grandson and his band is how few students came to the games. The stands were filled with members of the band, the girls on the dance team and parents. The number of students watching the game without affiliated to a particular group was minimal compared to my own experiences. I was surprised with the obvious lack of interest and I wondered how that had come to be. I noted that it was not just my grandson’s school that appeared to lack student spirit, but also the opposing sides. I wondered why those gridiron competition had grown out of fashion with student spectators.
I would not trade my memories of those Friday night duels for anything. I viewed my male classmates who played in the game as heroes. I thought that the girls who marched at halftime were glorious. I felt so much joy and delight on those evenings that it created energy for me to study and learn during the school week. Those really were the days.
In a postscript I ended up marrying a student from St. Thomas. He still boasts about the state championships that his team won. I let him brag because I know I would do so if the tables were turned. I also found out that my former rivals from that school were actually rather nice fellows, not the brutes that I once thought them to be. It seems that we all had great fun on those Friday nights and it was wonderful.