Thursday, September 3, 2009
Friday night under lights
I’ve been on the sidelines covering high school football for about 30 years.
Good friend Les Walters, then editor of The Hamilton (Ala.) Progress, put a camera and notebook in my hands as soon as I graduated from high school and started me on the journey, while I was majoring in journalism at the University of North Alabama.
I have not missed many Friday nights since - stretching from Hamilton (Ala.) to Fulton to Aberdeen to Amory to Laurel to Holly Springs - and many neighboring towns in between. The road trips are often the best, and they’ve carried me all over this state.
Thursday night, I was driving home from a day off in Alabama, and decided to stop in Fulton for the Itawamba Community College versus Jones County Junior College football game. I saw lots of old friends - from both ICC and JCJC. I followed the Indians while spending four years in Fulton and the Bobcats while living two years in Laurel.
But while visiting, I rekindled some high school football memories from Fulton - particularly the old, small stadium once shared by Itawamba Agricultural High School and then Itawamba Junior College. It was in the center of the IJC campus and was known best as “playing between the brick walls.”
ICC has a much bigger stadium now, built several years back, and IAHS still shared that one until this season. IAHS played its first game in its new stadium on its campus Friday night versus Amory.
My wife recently set me up a Facebook page, which I only look at occasionally. I noticed some Fulton folks talking about the new stadium on campus, and one mentioned it won’t ever be the same as playing between the walls. I agree.
That stadium was very intimidating for visiting teams. Fans packed in. They were on top of the action. There was little room on the sideline for the players, the coaches and the media.
My good friend Les remembers the stadium well. The year I started to work at The Itawamba County Times he came over for the Hamilton, Ala.-IAHS contest. Just before halftime, he was focused, looking through his camera, when he got nailed by a football player and knocked back into the bench. He actually had to be taken to the hospital by ambulance. He was OK. We still laugh about it.
I’ve been blessed to follow some great coaches and some great teams - even state champions. But I’ve always given the same coverage to the not so good teams, too - even a few 0-10s.
That’s because I do it for the kids. They deserve it, win or lose.
I was asked when I was publisher of the daily newspaper in Laurel, “What are you doing on the sideline?”
“Because this is where I want to be on Friday nights,” I replied. “I wouldn’t miss it.”
High school sports are important to our Mississippi communities. They bring us together. They teach valuable lessons that cannot be learned in the classroom.
I once wondered how I was going to be able to take pictures and game notes at the same time. I figured I did not have enough hands. But I caught on quickly.
And 30 years later, the routine is much more than a job. It’s loads of fun. I can’t imagine life without Friday night football.
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