Friday night high school American football is one of the most popular traditions in the United States. It can involve thousands of people in small and large communities, which organize dozens of activities including marching bands, dancers and fundraisers, all built around a team of high school players. Sometimes the game almost gets lost in all the other fun.
Producer Zulima Palacio is from Colombia and never experienced the excitement of Friday night football. So we sent her to Texas, where high school football is still king.
This is not a declaration of war. It is the beginning of a long night of excitement. It is almost like a carnival, but it is high school football in Texas.
Tonight, the Chaparrals, or the “Chaps,” from Westlake High School will challenge the Panthers from Pflugerville, in Austin, Texas. It is the beginning of the playoff games for the state championship of high schools in Texas. For the next six weeks this will be THE main subject of conversation and THE main center of attraction. The media will cover every step of the weekly ritual of noise, fun and passion.
Dr. Charles Beithaupt works for the University Interscholastic League, an association of high school teams. He told us, "When Friday night rolls around there is more than just a football team playing. There is a band performing and the drill team and the twirlers and the cheerleaders and all the auxiliary units that make up the fine art side of competition."
Some of these teams take a caravan of as many as 14 charter buses to a game -- just two are for the team. An average team has 40 players. But the younger players, those not on the varsity, are allowed to be at the games in uniform, although they don't play. So that is nearly 100 players on the sideline, just looking or offering their support.
Larger schools can have 300 students in the band, 100 in the drill team, 60 for the dance team, 25 cheerleaders. They all have fans, followers and parents. For the final games, two schools’ fans can fill up large stadiums, even those for 50,000 people.
The game is never the only center of attention. Children practice on the side, the band plays, the high liners dance and the cheerleaders cheer. Some eat throughout the game and some… simply sleep.
I wanted to understand the "charm" of a game that has not spread around the world. Here is what the Westlake head coach Derek Long told me, along with some other thoughts.
"Maybe is the violent nature of it, maybe is because there is so much intensity and energy in it, that people see it as the way of the strongest, the toughest, that the best come on top."
"It's the greatest showing of manliness on earth and it is football, it is life," says one student.
"It is such a good game. It is like soccer to the rest of the world. It’s our own sport, we created it, we identified with it," said another fan.
Others just look at the cheering part of it. Said one future cheerleader, "We are going to go to Westlake some day and be just like them."
The final score is 42 to 32. While the Panthers celebrate, the Chaps' side of the stadium becomes somber. Tears fill many youngsters' eyes. As a sign of good sportsmanship, the players shake hands and soon after that everybody goes home.
Tomorrow it will be time to dream of next week or year -- and start getting ready for all that excitement again.