Madison Monday: At a high school football game

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Last Friday for the first time in over 20 years, I went to a high school football game. It was something of an existential crisis.

My step-daughter was performing at half-time, and that was delightful. I think my husband and I were the goofiest people in the stands, watching her perform. She was blissfully unaware, though, so we spared her that embarrassment.

The problem with going to a high school football game had nothing to do with my step-daughter or my husband. It was all about me, and my feelings about high school and that crucible of high school social life–the Friday night football game. It is simply a trauma from which I have still not recovered.

Football games, even more so than dances, were the places you went to see and be seen. I understand many important and interesting things happened at football games–just not to me. I went to as few as possible.

hsfootballThe high school football game is a great sorter of people. There’s the sorting of fans–opposing and home team. The sorting of parent from student section. There’s the place where the band sits, the cheerleaders on the field with the football players. Then all the rest of the students, and if you think the arrangement of everyone else is random, you simply didn’t go to high school or you weren’t paying attention.

You can learn a great deal about the social structure of a high school by close observation of where everyone sits. This was part of my problem in high school–I didn’t know where to sit. There is nothing more horrifying as a teenager than walking into the football game, staring up at the bleachers and seeing no welcoming face or wave beckoning you to join the group. It’s the stuff of nightmares, quite frankly.

Then there’s the walking around. Say you actually find a place to sit, somewhere safe and neutral and non-threatening. At some point, you’ll have to get up. You’ll have to walk down the stairs and in front of the bleachers and the whole crowd watching you. Here is the truth about a high school football game–none of the students go to watch the football. They go to watch each other.

On Friday night, it was nice to be able to watch all this happening with no consequences for me. As a parent, your place is well-marked; you sit with the other grown-ups. If there were rules about where the adults sat, I was blissfully unaware. You spend some time actually watching the game. Not having grown up in Madison, I don’t have to worry about anyone watching me when I walk to the concession stand–most of the people don’t know who I am. And it appears that my daughter, as part of the band, will have a built-in place.

Mostly what I was thinking at the game was that there is really nothing that would motivate me to even consider re-living my youth. If you could smell insecurity and awkwardness, the odor at a high school football game would be over-powering. It is painful to watch, but a nice reminder of how good it is to be old.

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