I’ve picked up a nice little side gig writing about area high school football for a major sports news conglomerate. Football isn’t my first choice in sports, but the chance to watch and report the game is as rewarding as living in the moment as a writer with something to write about.
Then there’s the added reward of getting to stand side by side with everyday football fans. Football fans are a driven, passionate bunch.
As sports go, I support the revolutionaries by nature. Sure, I do have a historic respect for icons of football. From Vince Lombardi to Alabama coaching legend Bear Bryant, I have a healthy regard for the mentors whose emphasis was telling players to zip it, play hard, and achieve goals.
But, equally I love rowdy fans of all sports. To me they bring a distinct color and enthusiasm to the game that match the best plays on the field. Yet on one occasion over the past few weeks I got to listen to the home fans really get their pants in a bunch about the game in the wrong way.
Without naming names, I was covering a heated local rivalry among two historic Chicago area high schools with a reputation for success. The visiting team was heavily favored that weekend, but the home crowd was pumped and their team seemed ready to bring it.
During the game there were tense moments that got the crowd going. After going down by more than a touchdown before halftime, the shouting and criticism started. Some home fans hurled epithets at the head coach.
On a last-possession play the home team’s coach let the clock nearly expire for no reason. Luckily, Coach was paying attention and knew what he doing, letting the clock wind down to about five seconds remaining. His squad completed a field goal to make the halftime score a bit more respectable.
But in the meantime the home crowd got a bit crazy. Maybe parents had a history with him on issues with the clock, prompting them to yell, “C’mon!”, “What the hell are you doing?” and similar sentiments laced with f-bombs and amplified frustration, all in front of other high school kids.
Even from the press box throughout the game someone sitting within an earshot of the announcer’s microphone was heard yell “Get him!” and “Mark your man, dammit!” followed by more “What are you doing?”
As someone who frequently puts his foot in his mouth, I found these over-the-loudspeaker squeals from the press box odd.
Then, the show-stopper. One big burly fan in the stands very vocally called the coach a “retard”, and it wasn’t until then that someone eventually (several minutes later) suggest “we” tone it down.
Luckily I didn’t hear the R-word or anything worse throughout the game. But the home crowd got all over the players and the coach. Whether it was an incomplete pass or watching their QB get sacked, I was glad these misbehaving parents were a couple hundred feet away so their kids couldn’t hear their idiotic statements.
After watching the game and logging every single play, the other part my job is getting on-field after the game ends to get quotes from coaches and the game’s star player. That’s the fun part.
The good news is that every single high school player at every single game that I have ever spoken to is the same: All total class acts. Both the one-off surprise performers and the stalwarts who have locked up college scholarships already, are nothing but respectful, cooperative and polite to me and my nosy, sometimes loaded, questions.
They speak highly of their coaches and their love of the game. When I ask about their touchdowns and interceptions these high school kids typically emphasize the team efforts. One player, after scoring three TDs one game told me, he could have done more and almost “fell short”.
These lads, even after a loss, take it all as a serious and noble endeavor. Not one to be denigrated by tasteless epithets and misplaced commentary. Luckily they listen to coaches, teachers or other mentors, maybe themselves within, and drown out the detached blurbs from the stands.
It’s fair to say that parents in the stands, sometimes, could learn a thing or two about decorum, patience and respect from the 17 and 18 year-olds on Friday night’s football field.