The Evolving World of High School Football Games

I go to a lot of high school football games — way more than I attended when I was in high school — because Ian is the marching band.

Ian is not an enthusiastic member of the marching band. Alright, let’s just say it. He hates it. He only weighs 122 pounds, has low muscle tone, and flat feet. He plays percussion, where every instrument other than the cymbals weighs about 1/3 of his body weight.

There are hours and hours of practicing and waiting around. This week alone, he’s practiced every day during his music period. He has a game tonight where he won’t get home until about 10:30 (he leaves for school at 7:00 am). Tomorrow, he has four hours of practice in the afternoon. Sunday, he has a full day marching band festival. If he makes it through the weekend without yelling at an adult, there will be a fat STEAM gift card waiting for him.

This year, he got stuck with the big bass drum. Because he can’t see over the drum, his legs are one big black and blue mark from tripping. He fell over a curb the week before and cut open his chin. He has shin splints from all the time on his feet. Steve rigged some padding around the harness, because he had bruises on his chest.

Because Ian attends a very small school, the music director made marching band mandatory for all students. Without that rule, there would be no kids with their trumpets or flutes in the stands.

Steve and I aren’t football people. We’re only at these Friday night games to support our kid. We’ve gotten into the habit of finding a dive bar near the game, pounding a couple of beers, and eating wings for dinner. Then we show up half drunk by the end of the second quarter. We’ll be doing that tonight.

Football, in some ways, is the same as it ever was. Touchdowns and fumbles. The crazy parent yelling on the top of their lungs. Kids sneaking out the hole in the fence to drink and vape between plays. But somethings are different.

One major positive change is that there is a greater diversity of body types among the cheerleaders. They’re not all beautiful and skinny. I have to say that watching those girls always makes me smile.

Last week, we met up with a friend for our pre-gaming ritual. His kid was playing marching band for the opposing team. He said that his school doesn’t have enough football players anymore, so they’re going to have merge their team with another nearby town. The boys in his school are all on the soccer team instead.

With Ian’s injuries this year, I think we’re going to let him step away from his music program for his senior year. It will free up time in his schedule for another computer class. So, tonight’s game might be his last game ever (if they lose, there won’t make it to playoff tournaments).

I’m semi-sad about it, because it will mark another end of a parenting era. Also, I’ve come to enjoy the pre-game beer and wings, the moms in their bulky sweatshirts selling candy and pretzels in the club house, and the strange, quirky world of marching bands.

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14 thoughts on “The Evolving World of High School Football Games

  1. My former high school dropped to 8-man football. I don’t think that’s because the kids are playing soccer but because the town is losing population. Only two or three of the people I grew up with still live there.

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  2. Your son has my sympathies–I carried the bass drum for four long and empty years when I was in college (Virginia Military Institute)–two parades a week, plus one or more smaller events that required a band. Football games we played at only when the other team’s band did not come or if there was not some other halftime entertainment. My hands used to bleed at the beginning of the fall semester when we came back early to get the band back in shape for the year.

    Interesting that football is losing out to soccer and depopulation–here in Missouri, it is still a big deal. I bet if you were living in Texas, you would have a different kind of football culture around you–don’t know if the wings would be any better–

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  3. Boy, everyone always destroys my dreams of activities that I look at and think that they seem joyful. “Long and empty”, bruises, tripping, . . . . It is like looking at ballet dancers feet. We played marching band songs in music (but, not while marching; we just belted out “hang on snoopy” as loud as we could (volume was the goal).

    I hate football but the Ohio State marching band still brings tears to my eyes. Had to look up and watch “A Giant Leap”, the performance for the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, with rocket launching, and all.

    Kiddo has been rowing in HS, but he seems to enjoy his aches and pains (and blisters, oh the blisters) as badges of pride and honor.

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    1. “Boy, everyone always destroys my dreams of activities that I look at and think that they seem joyful. ”

      Marching band makes my daughter *so* happy, for what it’s worth. Of course, she plays flute, which is easy to carry. But my son likes it too, and he carries a tenor sax.

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  4. In a related note, this ode to Columbus, Ohio is circulating the internets: https://saeedjones.substack.com/p/regarding-columbus-ohio

    “Because when I yell “O-H” and some stranger yells back “I-O” and we burst out laughing with pride as we go on about our day, it’s not just about college football or the famed “Columbus nice” culture, it’s about knowing that — seemingly against all odds, against the most antagonistic parts of my self — I have yet again made a home for myself in this burning world. ”

    Columbus, the star of the state, and the essentially unironic city.

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  5. So I asked S about how often she does band in a week during football season. For a home game in a week they have 5 hours of rehearsal and then 8 hours on Saturday for the game and before and after stuff.

    E is in HS band. They do a one-week band camp (4 hours a day, mornings) in summer where they get their music and start to practice formations. Then they practice during their band class and then usually once in the week before a home game for 2 hours. On game nights, they come home then go back at 5:45 for the game. Ian’s school sounds too intense. 😦

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    1. His band camp is full day, for eight days over the summer.

      Today, he was supposed to go to a 12-hour band festival. It was rained out, but rescheduled for next weekend. Steve and I need to do a little googling to find the dive bar near the stadium.

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  6. The diversity of body types among the cheerleaders reflects the increasing levels of obesity among American teenagers, no? It’s probably not possible to field a full squad of skinny girls. (I don’t think it’s ever been the case that all the cheerleaders were beautiful, except in the sense that all happy, athletic young people are beautiful.)

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    1. I’ve noticed the same thing about our high school’s cheerleaders. My theory is that more of the athletic girls who would have gone for cheerleading in the past are actually doing real athletics themselves rather than preening for the boys while they play.

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  7. Concussion rates are 2nd highest (after football), during practice, for cheerleading, according to a 2019 paper on HS sports & concussion.

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    1. bj said,

      “Concussion rates are 2nd highest (after football), during practice, for cheerleading, according to a 2019 paper on HS sports & concussion.”

      Yeah.

      There are a lot of ways to get hurt doing the more challenging moves. I’d also be concerned about neck and spinal cord injuries, too, in case of falls.

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