Written by: Rajan Nanavati, Editor and Founder of Hail To The District
While baseball might be America’s pastime, there are no two ways about it: the American people love football the most of any sport in the United States. And while the sport is beloved among fans all over the US, that level of love and passion is doubled when it comes to small towns.
Want proof? Here are 10 reasons why small town football takes the love of the game to a whole new level:
Football Is The Biggest Attraction In Town
Plain and simple, “football is life” for the families — and the kids — who grow up in small towns. There’s no big city to travel to on the evenings and weekends. There aren’t megaplex shopping malls or the other commercial attractions, outside of a few chain restaurants and mom and pop shops, that tend to cause distractions for teenagers. It’s just home, school, and football; that’s about it. When there are fewer other things to focus on, that means people devote that much more focus on football, which only goes to amplify its importance to the town and its residents.
Small Towns, Big Stadiums
If you ever want to see how just how seriously fans in small towns take high school football, then look no further than the football stadiums built by the local high school. Many smaller colleges and universities would kill to have
some of the high school football stadiums you’ll see in football-crazy states like Texas, Florida, California, Louisiana, and others. You could have high school stadiums that seat upwards of 30,000 fans, which is half of what old NFL stadiums used to seat. And that’s not even mentioning the increasing state-of-
the-art facilities inside the stadium itself.
The School Is A Part Of The People Themselves
Many football fans in major suburban areas are most loyal to their professional football team of preference. Alumni of large and prosperous football programs will remain fiercely loyal to their alma mater. But what about those people who grew up in a small town that didn’t have a college or NFL team to root for? For them, their high school is as much of their identity as anything. Those are the people who will go to games year after year long after they’ve graduated, and continue supporting their school like it’s a part of themselves. That bond is unexplainable to anyone who hasn’t grown up in a small town themselves.
It Means More To The City
Because we think of sports being anything more than a game, we tend to overlook the socio-economic impact that sports have on a city. But the truth is, sports teams often have a major impact on a city’s economy; that’s doubly the case for small towns, where sports like football tend to be among the biggest events in the entire town. Parents of kids playing football have to buy the groceries required to feed their growing boys from supermarkets, buy their clothes from local retailers, and their sporting equipment from sporting good stores. Families and fans buy team merchandise from the school and affiliated retailers. People in the city go out to eat at local restaurants before the game, and take their kids out for dinner after the game is over. That’s all money that’s being generated for the city, all as a direct result of local high school football.
It Destroys Racial Barriers
The prevailing misconception is that racism and racial discrimination tend to be more prevalent in smaller cities, but that’s actually not true. Because most smaller cities tend to not have the economic disparities and associated gentrification that comes with the suburbs of big cities, you’re less apt to have homogenous populations that belong to the same social and economic class. In other words: whether you’re white Americans, African Americans, or any other race, you’re all living together in one happy community. And more importantly, your kids are all going to school together, which means they could all be on the football team together. With that, you stop seeing people’s skin color and start seeing them as neighbors, teammates, and friends. In small, football-crazy towns, if you’re helping your local team win football games, the color of your skin doesn’t matter.
You’re Intimately Involved With The Players And The Outcome
Imagine you have a son on the football team. The kid that’s the starting quarterback might be your son’s best friend from preschool. The kid that’s the school’s star running back might be the boy who used to come over and work on a particular school project with your son. The kid that’s the all-world linebacker might have been on the same T-ball team that your son used to play on. Because it’s a small town, you know everyone on the team almost as well as you know your own family. So, in a sport like football, which tends to elicit the passions from sports fans — and especially the parents of the players — you can’t help but share the same passion for other kids on the team, because you know them so well. That’s why each football game in small towns mean so much.
The Rivalries Are More Intense
As the saying goes: familiarity breeds contempt. In a small town, you might have two schools who happen to be bitter rivals for years, with the two schools being located only a handful of miles apart from each other. This goes
back to the concept of many individuals on that particular team being so familiar to you because even though they go to a different (rival) high school, they’re still members of your community. You might see them at the grocery store, the local health club, or at Church on Sunday. But on Friday night, they might as well be public enemy #1.
The Crowds Are Unparalleled
Ever been to a small town when there’s a football game going on? If you haven’t, here’s a hint of what you might find: absolutely nothing. For those two to three hours each Friday evening, the entire town shuts down, and you’ll likely find almost every resident of the town at the football game. This is their biggest social event of the week, and the residents of the town treat it as such, bringing an energy and enthusiasm in the stands the likes of which are unmatched at any other level of the sport.
Football Stars Become Local Legends
Most people around the United States don’t know anything about Bessemer, Alabama, a town with less than 30,000 people. But football fans are well aware of the fact that it’s the hometown of two high school football legends: future Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, and the great Vincent “Bo” Jackson. Carroll Township is a tiny suburb of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with a population of fewer than 6,000 people. But even to this day, any one of those 5,600+ residents will probably tell you that it’s the town where Joe Montana started his path to becoming one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. When local high school stars make it big, the residents of the town feel like they’re celebrities themselves — ie, those stars put their town on the map.
Truly For The Love Of The Game
In the NFL offseason, most of the headlines you’ll read are about team owners figuring out new ways of making themselves even richer, and players skipping practices and team activities to force their teams to give the new contracts. If you’ve been paying attention to the latest college football (and basketball) headlines, you’re reading more and more about the NCAA is packed with “pay or play” scandals: schools, boosters, and fans essentially bribing high school recruits to enroll at a particular school. But before those kids ever go off to college, they’re playing high school football — they’re playing for all the right reasons: to play a game with their friends, to perform for the fans, and to hopefully make a better life for themselves. It’s football without the corruption.