For the second time in the last 10 years, I went to a high school football game Friday night. I went with my wife and our son, a 26-month old redheaded spitfire (also sometimes a firebrand). My first cousin's son is the first-chair trumpet player in the Pilot Point High School band, and for the second year in a row he was up for Band Beau at Homecoming. They never had such things when I was in school.
It was a breezy night, not too hot. We had just grabbed some hamburgers and a hot dog from the band's concession stand, and Ben was devouring the Cheetos. He kept leaning on my legs to get a better look at something, effectively fingerpainting cheese coating all over my shorts. I demonstrated licking the cheese off my fingers so he might get the hint. Good thing I love him. He dropped his sippy cup, which then bounced through the Mac truck-sized gap in the bleachers and hit the dirt far below. By the time I got to it, it had been kicked repeatedly through the dirt. I headed to the Men's room to rinse it off.
Through Ben's Eyes
Ben sat in the stands for a while without getting bored. He pointed at the field at one point to say, "Paying sootball," which I think we can all translate if we try. Keep working on those "L" and "F" sounds, buddy.
I walked Ben around a little bit when he got restless. Along the journey we saw an ambulance, a fire truck, and a police car. The fireman opened the door for Ben to look inside with his wide blue eyes. That was a highlight of the night for Ben.
When the inflatable, oversized bearcat the football team uses as its "tunnel" was deflated, Ben said, "Bearcat fell down." He was scared of the mascot when we got close to it. Yeah, son, just you wait until we go somewhere with a Disney theme. Looks like he might be a shrieker.
I got to a point in my life that I started thinking of sporting events as just another form of entertainment. After going to a couple of them live in the same week, I have to admit they are much more than that. At a live concert or a play, the crowd certainly applauds and/or yells in approval of the performance. To an extent, this behavior is contagious. Once a few people stand up to give a standing ovation, for instance, the rest usually follow, whether or not they truly feel it is deserved.
At a sporting event, there is competition, which means the fans take sides, and that makes it alive in a much more dynamic way than other forms of entertainment. High school sports amplifies this effect.
At a high school football game, parents of players are peppered throughout the stands. Some spectators are conscious of this and make an effort not to badmouth the players; some ignore this and complain about them after every down. Regardless, the parents usually do a good job of ignoring these idiots and try to enjoy watching the opposing team knock the living spit out of their sons.
Also in attendance are former students of that school who still feel a connection to the team. They often are more rabid fans than those currently enrolled, perhaps in an effort to recapture their youth, or just in their excitement that there still is a place one can pay $5 for an evening out.
When something good happens, it's more than just a singer hitting a note, or a guitarist firing off a burning solo run. When that happens, a concergoer might lean to another and say, "These guys are amazing!" or "Dude, they are killing tonight."
In sports, though, it's "We scored!" or "I can't believe we're losing like this," followed by high-fives or hand-wringing, respectively. Cheerleaders encourage spectator participation. Some fans can admit when the other team makes a good play; some would not be caught dead saying anything complimentary of the opponent. The players feed off all these forms of energy more than anyone who's never been out on the field could ever know.
I have no doubt that sports are entertainment. They charge admission, there is a stage, and the participants dress up for their performance. The fans, however, make the difference, because sports provide a venue for them to do much more than passively be entertained. They yell and rejoice as if they can make a difference in who wins or loses. More often than not, they are right.