Communities Shine Bright Under the Friday Night Lights
Twenty-five years ago, in a small west Texas town, a story was told, a book was written, and a new phrase started to emerge in American sports. To some, it signified a relentless, over-the-top obsession with sports and the pressure to win. To others, it defined spirit, it defined passion, and it defined community. This uniquely American experience, captured in the words “Friday Night Lights”, brought new-found exposure to the world of high school athletics and created a spotlight that continues to shine. Much has changed in the world of sports since 1988, but an examination into the platform of high school athletics, shows that “Friday Night Lights” still speaks to a culture all its own.
Since 1988, I’ve lost track of the number of professional sports teams that have relocated to find a better deal. They’ve abandoned cities, ruined long-standing traditions, and crushed the dreams of those who followed. There have been lockouts and strikes, seasons and championships cancelled. The only thing a winning season has guaranteed is an increase in ticket prices the following year.
I don’t recognize the collegiate game today. Continued conference realignment, school specific sports channels, “one and done” players. Years of tradition vanished because university presidents have shown us it is all about the money. Paying student-athletes will soon follow.
As we discovered 25 years ago, high school sports have their own set of challenges. Some may still question the balance of obsession vs devotion. Some may still question the commitment to athletics vs academics. But what isn’t in question is the idea that high school sports are the heartbeat of communities across America. Whether you’re in Parkersburg, Iowa or West, Texas, the football field may serve as the triage area for the local community tragedy on one night and the debut of that same city’s rebirth another. It is about passion and loyalty. It is about team and community, the entire community. It is about the place you call home…your kids, your neighbor’s kids.
The Chattanooga Times Free Press ran a great article last year called “Views from the 50: What Prep Football Means” where 50 different people were asked about their passion for high school football. While reading the article, you can almost see the smiles on each of the interviewee’s faces as they revisit the memories and life moments that high school football has brought them over the years. But even more importantly, there was a common thread in nearly everybody’s answer: The word “community.” It was used 31 different times throughout the article.
Bernard Childress, the executive director of the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association summed it up very well when he said: “Not only does high school football unify student bodies, it tends to brings communities together unlike any other activity.”
High school teams are local heroes. They build upon tradition. They keep it alive.
Twenty five years later, there is still some magic in Friday Night Lights.