This past Friday my family took part in a classic American tradition. We were under the lights for a small-town high school football game. The Bonny Eagle Scots took on the Massabesic Mustangs on the Scot’s home turf. It was a warm night, welcome in a sport that usually requires us to come in layers and wrap blankets around out knees. There was a fifty-fifty raffle, and the Boosters sold soda and pizza slices and ring pops. Little kids galloped up and down the grass verge while the middle schoolers went back and forth, buying candy and showing off their new cell phones. Teen aged girls huddled in groups of three and four and giggled at teen aged boys. Grandparents cheered and parents bellowed, “Sack the quarterback!” and “We want a field goal!” The pep band played “Theme from Batman” and “Funkytown” and the school song. Cheerleaders bounced and flipped and were tossed into the air. Players stood for the National Anthem and tore the field up until they were filthy. The hard-fought game ended at 31-28 for the Mustangs, and you could hear Scots supporters dissecting the game as they jammed the school parking lot looking for their cars.
You don’t usually think of football when you think of Maine. Alabama or Texas or Oklahoma, yes. But like those more southerly states, Maine is also very rural, with far-flung townships where the life is organized around the selectmen’s meetings and the Masons and the high school games. The Bonny Eagle schools are drawn from four adjacent towns, and not one of them has a population of over 5,000. Folks shopping at the Hannefords’ after work on Thursday will ask you if you’re going, and when you stop by the hardware store on Saturday, they’ll be talking about the big rush and the pass that got intercepted. It’s not a pigskin cult – the football players don’t get much more shine than other accomplished kids in the student body. It’s a community thing. A change to touch base with the people who live in your town and to eat a hot dog and to scream into the cool autumn night.
When our son joined the pep band his freshman year, my husband and I hadn’t attended a live football games since our own student days. (Our oldest went to an all-girls Catholic school. Catherine McAuley fields many strong teams, but football isn’t one of them.) I’ve since become addicted to the experience. I expect we’ll keep on going even after he graduates. I picture my husband and I sitting on the bleachers, our blanket over our ever-more-creaky knees; first seeing the kids who were underclassmen when our son graduates, then seeing the kids of our own younger friends, and finally seeing the kids of the kids. I like that image. It’s a nice way to spend a Friday night in a small town, watching that ball arching into the air as your roots sinker deeper and deeper.
Soccer is our big fall spectating sport but I am planning to watch a Camden Hills football game soon. Such a big part of autumn for me, too, having grown up in a small town in Massachusetts where football games were the highlight of every fall weekend.