Why High School Football In Texas Is More Than Just A Game
There are many, many numbers that could put into context just how dominant Texas’ football pedigree is.
With over 165,000 teens playing football at over 1,000 schools during the 2012-13 school year, Texas had, by far, the largest number of high school football players in the country.
Of the 128 schools that participate in the top level of Division I college football, the Lone Star State is home to 12, making it the most of any state in the US.
When it comes to starting quarterbacks at the college level, 18 hailed from Texas. Eight more began the season as starters for their teams in the NFL. Both numbers are the most in their respective categories.
But it takes much more than facts and figures to capture Texas’ love for football. The midwestern state’s affection for the sport is a topic of discussion that touches on competition, culture and community. And that makes football much more than just a game.
In Texas, football is religion
Like anything that sends people into a craze, there is no single way to describe why fans across America, never mind Texas, love football so much. One of the most common ways, though, in which people describe how dedicated Texans are to the game, is by likening that love to faith.
One high school coach told “60 Minutes” in 1981:
It’s almost like going to church; you do that on Sunday, you play football on Friday nights.
And the people congregate faithfully. As San Antonio sportswriter David Flores narrates in the video above, the famous Friday night lights of high school football have the power to pull practically the whole population of a town into any given stadium.
Football games are also known to “shut down the town,” in the Lone Star State. It’s the belief that once football starts, everything else in the area stops. And in Texas, people believe.
When former Texas Longhorn standout Jordan Shipley was setting state records at Burnet High School, he described his football games to ABC News‘ Bob Brown as events that “shut down the town.”
And as part of that same report by Brown, 71-year-old high school super fan Bennie Cotton noted,
You go to those small towns … and everything revolves around the high school football team. To those people, football is NOT the Dallas Cowboys. Football is the school in the town where they live. They close down the towns for a high school football game.
When it comes down to it, high school football is just Texas’ thing.
But why does it make them so proud?
Texan communities rally around their respective high school football teams; that’s a given. But what’s most fascinating is the sense of pride those teams give their towns.
After all, any group of people can be entertained by a good product, but the way Texans regard their football culture as a special part of their identity truly tells the story of how much they love the game.
It’s a part of their very being, as one high school booster told Buzz Bissinger, the famed author of “Friday Night Lights” in 1990:
Life really wouldn’t be worth livin’ if you didn’t have a high school football team to support.
But what about football makes Texans so proud to the point that, as Shipley said, it’s all they talk about during the week? One answer seems to be the idea of heritage. When it comes to high school football fans in Texas, the fans of today are the sons and daughters of fans of yesterday.
One supporter of Shipley’s Burnet Bulldogs told ABC:
I’m sitting in the seats that my parents sat in. And my children have added seats that are adjacent to us. Our whole family sits in one section.
The notion that legacies play a part in high school football fandom makes sense, too. Texas, as a whole, has a reputation for keeping its natives within state lines. According to a recent Gallup poll, Texas is among the states with residents who are most content with staying put.
And while the economic climate of a town can change over time, football seems like one of the cherished constants in life for the Texans who call their small towns home. In his book, Bissinger highlighted the effect such a constant can have on a person’s pride.
One fan of the infamous Permian Panthers of Friday Night Lights told the author:
[Residents] can go anywhere in the state and brag about it. They get kicked around on the social fabric. They get kicked around on the terrain—it is flat and has no trees. But they sure play great football.
Doing it big
The sense of community, the heritage and the resulting pride all go a long way in explaining why Texans love football so much. It also helps tell the story of all the ways in which that love manifests off the field — and on it.
Simply put, the state does football big.
The disaster that was the $60 million Eagle Stadium of Allen, Texas hasn’t deterred Katy, Texas from building its own mega stadium for high school ball. Just this month, the town approved the building of a $58 million stadium that would seat 12,000 fans and service seven high schools.
And while the stadium has its fair share of critics, the mere idea of high school football driving in ridiculous crowds is nothing new. The state championship playoffs, held at the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T stadium every year, are known to draw more in attendance than the average college football bowl game.
And the Cowboys connection to the junior game doesn’t stop there, either. Starting in 2016, the Cowboys will practice at a shiny new facility in Frisco, Texas. The best part, for residents, about that facility is that seven local high school football teams will have access to the world-class resources that the Cowboys enjoy.
Of the facility, Dallas owner Jerry Jones told Sports Illustrated’s MMQB:
My vision is that one day, Tony Romo will walk off the field to the west after practice, and a high school quarterback will walk on the field from the east the minute Tony leaves. That vision, that marriage of the Cowboys and Texas high school football, has been a driving force for me.
The plan in itself embodies everything that Texas high school football has become known for: Their love for the bright lights of the pro game are rooted in a deeper love for the local game at a much younger level.
Texans take pride in their games more than most and that has the Lone Star state doing high school football bigger and better than anyone else.