High School Football – Southern Style

October 5, 2013 at 8:52 am (Civil Rights, Georgia, Uncategorized) ()

I have a shocking revelation to make.  (Be seated, please.)

Even though I grew up in the South, I never once attended a high school football game.  I had no interest whatsoever, although we did have pep rallies in the gym that were so loud my ears rang with tinnitus afterward.

The only high school football game I ever attended prior to last night was 10 years ago in Texas, where football is the sport of the gods, er, God.  I was impressed.  Even the sexy cheerleaders looked professional.

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If it hadn’t been for some co-workers who told me that “half the people who go to the games do so because of the marching band” I wouldn’t have been remotely interested.  But I love marching bands.  I love the exciting beat of the bass drums.  I loved the movie “Drumline.”  I loved the black school band in the Mardi Gras parade in LaPlace, Louisiana, whose drumbeats were echoed in Paul Simon’s later collaboration with Brazilian musicians’ samba beats.

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Marching bands bring back my early childhood in Corpus Christi, Texas.  We lived across the cotton fields from a high school just off Lexington Blvd (now the freeway to Padre Island.)  While out catching tadpoles in the curbside puddles or lizards in the backyard, I heard the bum-bumba-de-bum and rat-a-tat-tat of the drums wafting across the highway.  Mysterious and magical sounds, hinting at some ritual I was not privy to.  I thought of that last night at the game in this little south Georgia town.

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The home team band has won awards for its performances, so I anxiously awaited half-time to see for myself.  In the meantime, I watched the goings-on around me.  The year-old baby boy who flirted with me with his big blue eyes as he smiled and pounded on the bleachers.  The young girls imitating their big sisters’ cheers.  Black t-shirts that said “Indians – I am So-and-So’s Niece” or mother or uncle.  Occasionally I watched the game itself, until I became more and more absorbed trying to figure the rules of football, and who done what.  (Hey, spell check didn’t flag that poor grammar.)

Now I need to interject an observation here.  Well, two observations.  One is that I’m shocked that the local team calls itself the Indians in this day and age. I’ve lived up North for 40 years, so forgive my naiveté.  There is a substantial Cherokee tribe in these parts, and I would have thought they’d join the protests across the country by Native Americans against sports teams appropriating their names and symbols.  Washington Redskins, for instance.

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There’s even a Tomahawk Chop that the fans use to signify what they plan to do to the other team.  And signs at local businesses during playoffs that say “Scalp ‘em, Indians.” Wow.

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On a more positive note, I was very gratified to see that here in the bastion of the Confederacy, in the stronghold of former racial apartheid, that families and lovers were often biracial.  The young black girl hugging a white man.  Was she his adopted child?  The child of a former marriage?  A friend’s child he brought to the game?  There was a young man and woman holding hands – ebony and ivory.  I’ve seen it all over the South these days, and I think of what Martin Luther King, Jr. and his brethren went through to make this happen.  It makes me proud, even as the other racial issue makes me cringe.

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But back to the game, and the marching band.  And the rituals.  Cheerleaders on both sides urging their teams on – often at the same time.  Our band doing the tomahawk riff when the Indians make a good play.  Their band sounding off when the Rebels (yes, that’s another disturbing name) do well.  Oh, and many of the players for the Rebels are black.  Wow again.  BTW, there is a high school in nearby Jacksonville, FL named for the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.  True story.

Seems I just can’t get away from social commentary.  You’d think I didn’t enjoy myself, but I truly did.  I even clapped and hooted when one of our guys made a good run down the field.  I managed to see that play despite little Mr. Cutie Pie flirting with me on the bleachers.   Finally the first half ended with the Indians one point ahead of the Rebels.  The teams filed away into the locker rooms.  The bands were on the field.

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First the Rebel band.   The announcer asked the drum major if her band was ready.  She did a spunky dance of affirmation, climbed the podium, and started the show.   It was a small band, but spirited, with selections from “Earth, Wind and Fire”.  The girls with the flags couldn’t stay in synch, but it’s early in the season.  More practice will take care of that.

Then the Indian band, which proved worth the wait.  The drum major wore a tuxedo.  When asked if his band was ready, he did a little robot-like routine, then took his perch.  A one, and a two…. oh, that’s Lawrence Welk.  Anyway, the band was a very impressive cadre, with majorettes twirling batons and dancers with flags that stayed in beautiful synch.  They opened with Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al” and continued with more of his hits.  I was so mesmerized I forgot to take a picture with my iPhone.  (Imagine ME forgetting to take a picture.)  Then the best baton twirler was doing a solo.

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When I was a kid I tried to twirl a baton.  Lynn and Becky McKenzie across the street could twirl.  I never figured it out.  This gal was throwing that silver wand high in the air, catching it flawlessly, and continuing with the twirl.  Then she picked up another baton and started throwing them both!  I couldn’t take my eyes off her.  By the time she picked up the third one and started juggling them, my jaw was on the bleachers.  The only thing missing was flames.  (Christine Lavin, I love your flaming baton twirling, which you did 15 years ago in Augusta, Maine.)

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Anyway, that’s why I forgot to take pictures.  Now, whether this is Southern-style football, or if this is the way it’s done everywhere, I don’t really know.  I do know in Maine, basketball is King.  I do know in Texas, football is the main reason for living.  And in all small towns with sports teams, there is a sense of unity fostered by the rituals, the t-shirts, the teams, the successes, and the failures.

As for me, I’m much happier going off by myself watching birds and photographing spiders.

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