What do a six-term U.S. Congressman, a national champion college football coach, the county mayor, Quake, Vic Grider’s mother, a first-year cheerleader and my wife have in common?
Each of the above and 43 other people who share a passion for high school football and have Friday night fever are part of today’s special “Views from the 50.”
They are a part of the joy, magic, emotion, pain and pleasure that comprise Friday nights in the fall. Sure, the calendar does not switch seasons until next month, but truth be told, there are four seasons in the South — winter, spring, summer and football.
And forget the equinox. Football season starts tonight across the Tennessee Valley. It’s Friday night.
— Sports editor Jay Greeson
Hamilton County mayor
“It’s exciting to anticipate the sights and sounds that surround one of America’s favorite sports, as we gather to enjoy the first whistle signaling Friday night football kickoffs throughout Hamilton County and the region. Whistles blowing, plays being called, football players running and blocking, passes being thrown, stands filled with fans, marching bands warming up, and cheerleaders leading cheers are just a few images that tell us it’s football time!
“The life lessons learned through football will benefit players in all aspects of their lives. It is remarkable to watch young men engage in teamwork and build trust with each player on the team. Anyone who has ever played football knows the amount of hard work and discipline it takes and the perseverance needed to battle through struggles and obstacles. Fans observe the final product of the week’s practice and anxiously watch each play unfold. Football is fun to both play and watch, so it is exciting for everyone.
“Part of the excitement of the evening is visiting with school mates, seeing old friends and possibly making new ones. Engaging in ‘football talk’ with old friends makes for a pleasant night of conversation and laughter. It is always great to ‘catch up’ with those who you may not have seen since last year’s football season. And of course, it’s always better if your team wins. If not, there’s always next week!”
Former University of Tennessee coach
“I enjoy the fans, particularly the high school enthusiasm and the students especially. From the band marching in and the smell of fresh-cut grass on Friday nights, the lights shining down and the whole atmosphere is incredibly exciting. So many communities bond to their high school teams and are so loyal, it’s fun to be around.
“It was always fun to go to watch those great teams and players and feel the excitement that came down onto the field. Those environments always took me back to my own fun high school days. It’s like Kenny Chesney’s song ‘Boys of Fall’; that song explains the feeling exactly the way it was. You’re in the huddle with your friends and teammates and having each other’s back, playing a big rival. Celebrate the wins and if you had a tough loss you learn to bounce back and keep going.
“There’s just something pure about high school football.”
Chattanooga Lookouts pitcher and former LSU quarterback signee
“It was really just time to go to work. We put in so much effort throughout the week building up to the game, game-planning and all that, and Friday night was really kind of like the payday. It’s what we always worked for and prepared for.
“Football is really big in Texas, but I didn’t come from a big powerhouse school. We didn’t get the large crowds that you hear about in Texas, but I know we loved to compete just as much as the bigger schools.”
Brainerd assistant coach
“High school football is the pinnacle for the vast majority of our student-athletes, in terms of their sports career. Most will never put on another set of equipment for as long as they live. Therefore, the ‘LAST TIME’ reality makes it difficult, yet special. Also, we get student-athletes at a very formative time in their lives. Therefore, it is important to teach things that can be valuable in the fifth quarter — life after football. Things such as leadership, discipline, attitude, adversity, hard work, teamwork and, most importantly, LOVE. In doing so, winning on the field is just a byproduct of those things.
“I think besides the life lessons you learn from high school football, next in line are the memories created, the relationships that are built and the light it shines for your school and community. I would like to also note that so many of our student-athletes don’t have that place of peace, somewhere to vent during the most crucial time period of their life, yet high school football helps bridge that gap. You can make an argument that single-parent homes, hand-me-down burdens and financial setbacks are some of the leading issues that cripple our young black males. Although I might sound like a determinist, in my opinion high school football is the driving force within our young black males between diploma or dropout, school or streets, life or death. And that’s special and scary.”
Former University of Tennessee and NFL linebacker
“High school football is special to me because it helped shape who I am today. Most people see the games on Friday or the highlights on the Friday night news and view it as just entertainment. There’s a lot more to high school football. When I was a freshman, my high school football coach said, ‘You can still be a man if you decide not to play this game, but you have to be a man in order to play this game.’ I learned very quickly what he meant by that statement during spring football. I have played at all levels of this game, and I tell people the hardest hits I’ve ever received were during the spring of my freshman year. There were times when it was so hard I actually thought about walking away from the sport.
“The lessons you learn from participating in high school football can be used throughout the rest of your life. People don’t realize how similar football is to life. There will be times when you get knocked down, run over, tired or even hurt, but you will have to get back up and get it done, because you have people depending you. On the team it’s your teammates and coaches. In life it’s your family, friends and co-workers.
“High school football gave me the tools to overcome my adversities and helped build my character. Football was not just a sport for me; it gave me a way out of the housing projects and allowed me the opportunity to see the rest of the world. High school football will not be just a game to some young men; it will be an important building block for their lives.”
Former U.S. Representative from Tennessee’s 3rd congressional district
“I enjoy that it is the beginning of fall, cooler weather and the smell of folks grilling food as people gather in twilight as fall approaches. It almost gets me in the mood for Christmas. If it’s Friday night, the odds are that my wife is with me and we’re going out to watch friends of our family play. Kim is a football fan, so it doesn’t take much to get her out for a game.
“The best game I’ve been too was McCallie-Brentwood about 10 years ago. My best memory of a game is when [as a freshman] Wes Brown Jr. took off down the sideline and Chunky Keith — I think he was a second-string quarterback but could throw it 75 yards — and [Brown] caught it like Willie Mays going out in center field.”
Auburn athletic administrator, former North Jackson High coach
“Being raised in southwest Alabama there wasn’t a lot we could brag about, but us boys prided ourselves on being the toughest damn boys in the country, and football was the toughest thing going. The football games on Friday night were the gathering place for everybody. The old men would be there talking about old players and the girls would be dressed up to be seen, and I couldn’t wait to get out on the field and hear all those people cheer.
“I started playing fooball when I was 9, so I’ve been playing or coaching the game for 48 straight years. I’ve coached in the SEC the last 14 years, won a national championship and had a lot of great experiences here, but by far Friday nights are still the greatest thrill in my life. There really is nothing as exciting as a Friday night football game in a small town.
“Even now, as Friday night comes on and we finish preparing for the next day’s game here, I still get a chill and excitement just thinking about the big games going on at high schools around us. There’s just a tingle in the air that I can’t describe and that won’t ever leave me. I love high school football like nothing else.”
TSSAA executive director
“One of the main reasons high school football is so special and tremendously popular across the nation is it sets the tone for the opening of school each year. It helps create school spirit and develops an atmosphere that tends to get students interested in all extracurricular activities at their school. Not only does high school football unify student bodies, it tends to brings communities together unlike any other activity.
“It is especially nice to be fortunate enough to enjoy high school football from my vantage point. Being able to watch student-athletes compete and not care who wins or loses allows you to appreciate the sport even more. It enables you to truly appreciate the hard work put in by coaches and players. The best thing is being able to observe and marvel at the knowledge and skill level of a countless number of student-athletes. It is always a joy to watch them having fun and respecting the game and their fellow competitors.”
Daughter of Boyd-Buchanan coach Grant Reynolds and varsity cheerleader for the Bucs
“I can’t ever remember a time when football wasn’t a part of my life. My parents decided it was never too early to go out on a Friday night and watch the Bucs play football, so ever since I was a baby I got to watch my dad out on the sideline. I used to hate when people only knew me as Coach Reynolds’ daughter, but I realized that it’s not a bad thing at all. I’m proud of my dad. He has always been a wonderful role model for me. I can always see what a wonderful Christian man he is when I see the positive influence he has on his football team.
“Ever since I was a little girl I wanted to cheer on the same sideline with my dad. I would get all dressed up and wear my blue and gold outfits to the football games. It’s hard to believe that now I actually get to do what I always wanted: I get to be on the sideline with my dad and cheer for his team. This is a part of high school cheerleading that I am so excited for and will never forget. I can’t wait for football season. Go Bucs!”
Scott “Quake” McMahen
Co-host of “SportTalk” radio show
“One of the last slices of Americana left in our country is high school football. When the chaos of summer collides with the structure that becomes back-to-school time in the fall, high school football is there. The sport brings communities together from the ‘Go Team’ messages on the fast-food marquees to the band and cheerleaders putting in just as many hours as the football team in preparation for a one-of-a-kind season.
“Most players won’t play college football, so this is it. How your team will be remembered ... is up to your team. A sense of community camaraderie that bonds Americans, gives bragging rights at church and lends to wicked debates in the barber shops. High school football encourages a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play for something bigger than individual expectations, to accomplish more than just ‘atta boys.’ It’s the opportunity to win state — something for the rest of your life, no one can take away from you.”
Radio talk-show host and Boyd-Buchanan game announcer
“There is nothing quite like Friday night football to me. It’s those community cathedrals like Bill Baxter Stadium (Jasper), Beene Stadium (South Pittsburg) and ‘The Swamp’ (Boyd-Buchanan). It’s about watching a future SEC linebacker Eddie Moore play every snap of his high school career. It’s about the kid that will pull off his jersey as a senior after a playoff loss and never buckle a chin strap again. It’s about the smell of fresh-cut grass, Wayne Turner’s coaching shorts and a hot fish sandwich at Tyner. It’s having Roy Exum never picking your team to win. Ever. It’s knowing that Darrell Patterson was always going to have the highlights of your game. It’s Marion vs. South Pittsburg, Soddy-Daisy vs. Red Bank, Baylor vs. McCallie and Cleveland vs. Bradley. It’s moms and dads with buttons and jerseys proudly claiming their son as their own. It’s cheerleaders with spirit and homecoming queens with smiles. It’s elementary school kids playing tackle football in the grass by the fieldhouse. It’s coaching legends like Benny Monroe, Tom Weathers, Ken Colquette and the late Don Grider. It’s cramped press boxes with bad sight lines, hoping that coach really will send me his roster and his lineup by Thursday like he promised he would. It’s the sick feeling when it sinks in that your season is over, most years far too soon. It’s the greatest game ever, played in its purest form. Not for money or fame but merely for the love of the game.”
Sports anchor, WRCB-TV Channel 3
“For 16 Fridays in the fall, high school football is more than a game. It’s pure, passionate, powerful and proud. A rallying point for communities and a proving ground for young men.
“Through victories and defeats it teach life lessons, develops social skills, promotes fitness and health and creates memories, relationships and friendships that last a lifetime.
“It’s fresh-cut grass, painted faces, blaring bands and electric atmospheres under buzzing banks of lights. It’s road trips, motivational speeches, last-second comebacks, homecoming queens and proud parents. It’s a fundamental American experience through-and-through, and it’s why I do what I do.”
Former TFP photographer (and wife of the sports editor)
“Friday nights used to mean the pressure of capturing images that show the passion of the players, coaches and fans. Now Friday nights mean taking our two kids to meet Daddy for supper and going home and looking for him on the sidelines if he’s at the TV game of the week.”
Calhoun coach Hal Lamb’s wife
“Friday nights, wow! So many memories — some good, some bad and a few just plain unforgettable! In my 25 years as a coach’s wife, two Friday nights stand out above all the others. The first was 23 years ago when I was in labor during a football game. Hal had no idea of what was going on, and I tried my best to wait until the end of the game to go to the hospital. The other coaches’ wives sat with me in the stands and timed my contractions until finally they talked me into getting Hal off the sideline. Several hours later we had a beautiful baby boy! The second most memorable Friday night was much more recent, and involved my other son. It was Dec. 9, 2011, when we finally won a state championship. There have been so many years of watching football games, and the most precious memories are remembering when my boys were water boys, then ball boys, then players. This will be the first year in 18 years that one of our sons will not be on the sideline with Hal as he coaches.
“Friday nights bring on a whole range of emotions. I see images of players looking as though they had fought a battle as they leave the field in defeat. I also see images of players and parents running around yelling, ‘We’re going to the Dome!’ after earning our way into the semifinal game for the first time. Ohhh, those trips to the [Georgia] Dome! That is another experience altogether. However, as fun and exciting as they are, that is not the true Friday night experience.
“When I think about Friday night football, I think of wearing black and gold from head to toe. I think of arriving early to the games to tailgate with friends and watch our team during warm-ups. I think of watching the players and coaches pray before taking the field. I think of cheering and yelling for every first down and defensive stand. I think of watching the halftime shows and thinking that our band always wins (I’m a coach’s wife, so everything is a competition). I think of all the hugs and smiles and tears and heartbreaks that we have shared as a community on the field at the end of every game. Friday night football ... I can’t wait!”
Dean of Chattanooga high school coaches, beginning his 38th year
“I still get a charge out of Friday nights. I like to see the kids’ excitement and anticipation. It’s more exciting to me to watch the kids. When they win a game the atmosphere is totally jubilant. I like to win as much as the next guy, but it isn’t so much about winning and losing as everybody doing what they’re supposed to do and being where they’re supposed to be.”
TSSAA Board of Control member and Sequatchie County principal
“For a school like Sequatchie County it’s more about community. It’s the one time you can bank on most every member of the community attending. They will be at the football game. Maybe it’s old and Southern, but it’s one of those old traditions. It’s kind of like Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night [church]. It’s just one of those things you do. It is special for kids, too.
“One thing I impart to all of our students is get involved with something. Our whole school gets involved with our Friday night football, and it’s special to them for sure.”
TSSAA Legislative Council member and former Ooltewah and East Ridge principal
“As a former player, coach and administrator, I think I have a keen perspective as to what makes high school football so special. Very few happenings in high school generate the excitement and enthusiasm of an entire community than prep football. The beginning of each new school year is always exciting in itself, but coupled with the anticipation that a new football season brings, that excitement and enthusiasm is unsurpassed. Few events bring together the players, coaches, cheerleaders, parents, boosters and community as does high school football in the South!”
Hamilton County school board member and Lookout Valley athletic director
“To me prep football sets the tone for the entire school year. The excitement it generates has the potential to affect the entire community in a positive manner; and no matter how your team fared last year there always seems to be the feeling that something special can happen this year, and that somehow gives confidence to every aspect of school activities.
“My son, who played football, basketball, and baseball in high school, once told me that the most exciting part of his athletic career was the thrill of playing under the lights on Friday nights.”
TSSAA official and Marion County juvenile court judge
“My Friday night experience is unique. To paraphrase Jim Nantz, it is an experience unlike any other. For the last dozen years or so, I have had a ‘family’ gathering every Friday night during football season. The six men assigned to Crew A of the Southeast Tennessee Football Officials Association are not just fans of the game, but students and proponents as well. The camaraderie experienced during the one- to two-hour pregame preparation session rivals that of any team preparing to take the field.
“From the moment the car pulls into a designated parking place, usually behind a nondescript fieldhouse, an energy surges throughout the crew. It is a building anticipation that coincides with a pure love of the game. The schools are accommodating and warm. The PowerAdes and snacks welcome us, and the nerves are a bit subdued. Once the change into the stripes occurs and the finishing shine is put on the shoes, it is time to take the field. Being the first people on the field brings that familiar, pleasant feeling of being a part of a tradition that has become a part of America. The smell of hamburgers wafts across the field. The band tuning up echoes through the air. The coaches are nervously giving their players last-minute instructions.
“During these moments before the game, every official has a job to do — from verifiying the accuracy of yardage markers and checking safety equipment and game equipment to explaining the kickoff options to captains. Once the referee blows the whistle for the opening kickoff, each official gets into a zone. My fellow officials and I are then front and center to see some great football.
“What I give each Friday night is nothing in comparison to what the game has given me. I have enjoyed gaining a Friday night family with the same mutual respect for the game I have enjoyed for decades. That is to be expected. After all, Crew A has a combined experience of well over 60 years of officiating. Friday is more than just football for me: It means taking the field with five other men who speak an unpoken language and await that first kickoff each week with unabashed professionalism and unapologetic passion for the game.”
Musician, Whitwell assistant coach and former Boyd-Buchanan and UTC lineman
“Friday night football, to me, is one of the greatest experiences a young man will ever have, as well as one of his greatest teachers. Of course, there are the obvious sights and sounds that still to this day give me goose bumps. The band, the cheerleaders, the kids playing football with a plastic bottle in the end zone, the smell of hamburgers on the grill, I could go on and on. But Friday night football is so much more.
“As a player, the bond you form with your teammates comes to a pinnacle on Friday night. You aren’t just 11 guys, you work as one. And there’s nothing better than that. Where else can 11 guys from completely different backgrounds, races and religions come together and form ‘one heartbeat’? Nowhere. Sure, you see it on Saturdays and Sundays, but on Friday nights guys who may never play beyond their senior year of high school can be great. How can you beat that?
“It has been 12 years since I played under the Friday night lights. I am now married and a father to two sons. I will never force them to play football, but I pray that one day Friday nights mean the same thing to them as it does to their dad.”
“For as long as I can remember, I have spent my fall Friday nights attending high school football games. While I am an old basketball player and coach, I have to acknowledge that there is something special about high school football. Friday nights are occasions when communities gather and celebrate our country, our schools and our students — a wonderful tradition.
“About 20 years ago, when I became a high school principal at Hammond School [in South Carolina], I joined my mentor, [former Baylor headmaster] Herb Barks, on the sideline at one of our games. I have stood on the sidelines ever since. The energy, excitement, emotion, camaraderie, leadership, spirit and sportsmanship I have been privileged to witness from this vantage point make this ‘duty’ one of my favorites.”
Entering his 15th year as a member of the chain gang at McCallie home games
“The experience begins before kickoff, when the home team runs through some paper banner to the tune of a fight song they ‘borrowed’ from Wisconsin or Knoxville or some other college. My favorite place to watch a game is at Tyner. I like to stand on the top row on the visitors’ side. It’s a little scary, but not only is it a great view of the game, you can see the smoke from the fish fryer that you smelled walking through the gate.
“Most of the players know they are not going to play football after high school. The assistant coaches coach as hard as the players play. The officials love being part of the game and being around kids.
“The railbirds will stand along the fence and second-guess everything at the game from the coaches to officials to what is being sold in the concession stand. After halftime, when they have caught one of the mini footballs that the cheerleaders threw into the stands, you can see the little kids get their own game going on a smaller field beside or behind the big field.
“I like seeing so many different personalities with one common characteristic: They love the game.”
Brainerd High School band director
“I love being at the high school football games, watching the fans go crazy, cheerleaders cheer, the bands battle back and forth in the stands and Brainerd High School Panthers beat the opposing team! It’s great to see two opponents go after each other and the spectators show a healthy rivalry. If the game is exciting, it is easy to forget how hot or cold or rainy it is. Of course my adrenaline is pumping two minutes before halftime and the visiting and home bands are preparing to put on a show for the fans. It’s the best part of the night for me!”
Dr. Charles Mitchell
Former Hixson football player and now an assistant principal at Brainerd
“Friday night football is special because it’s a ritual and a routine, but also in the South it is a right of passage for young men. When the season begins, everybody has a blank slate and everybody has goals. It’s always good.”
Co-owner of Guthrie’s Restaurant, which hosts Signal Mountain players after home games
“It’s great. We stay open late and the restaurant will be packed. We thought it would be good for the high school and the community, and the kids love it. I wish there were more home games.”
John Rawlston Sr.
Beginning his 48th year as Soddy-Daisy’s public-address announcer
“Watching these young men play, I just enjoy it so much. It’s the closeness you have with the kids and then watching them progress through life. The way things are now they call you by your first name, but kids will come back and remember you and have respect for you. I have no idea what I’d do if I wasn’t on the P.A., but I’ll be doing it as long as I’m able. I guess I’ll be in the stands because I’m a Soddy-Daisy booster. I’d rather watch these kids play than go watch a college game.”
Local attorney and former high school multisport athlete
“Friday night football at Chattanooga Central in the 1950s was exciting and serious. Woe be to the player on game day who didn’t seriously prepare for the contest that night by eating pie at lunch, talking to your girlfriend in the halls or any other indication that you weren’t getting ready mentally for the game that evening at the University of Chattanooga’s Chamberlain Field.
“While the student body could loudly be heard in the distant auditorium with a pep rally taking place, the team was in a classroom in a ‘skull session’ going over the game plan with coaches E.B. Etter, Stan Farmer, Les Newton, Jake Seaton, Jimmy Hale and others for final preparation.
“The pregame meal at Gulas Restaurant on McCallie Avenue was usually a pretty solemn occasion with no horseplay. When the Greyhound buses left for UC, the team was usually ready to play. Central’s winning records during the 1950s, which included several state championships, clearly demonstrated the effectiveness of the pregame preparation and school spirit. The postgame victory parties after the game were pretty enjoyable also.”
PGA Tour caddie and former UTC golfer
“Friday night football in high school meant going to the game to watch my buds that were tough enough to stick out the preseason two-a-day practices in the heat. I played golf instead. Now Friday night means heading to Baylor to watch my fleet-footed nephew Landry Taylor try and get a pick-six or run a punt back for a touchdown.”
Marion County High School principal
“Friday night football is a community celebration in Jasper. As long as I can remember, the anticipation for the boys in purple and white to take to the field begins growing in late July. By the first football game, the city of Jasper feels like it is ready to burst with excitement to support their Marion County Warriors. On Friday nights, you can clearly see that this town has joined together for one night with one common goal — victory.
“The feeling of pride and accomplishment that our players have is undeniable. Being on both sides of the fence has given me an insight to being a player and a supporter. Playing during the mid-1990s brought with it the best experiences of my life. Seeing a stadium with standing room only and people you have never met cheering for you makes being a Marion County Warrior one of my greatest titles I’ve ever obtained. Thanks to my experiences underneath the Friday night lights, I can say that I was once and still support the Mighty Warriors.”
Radio announcer for South Pittsburg
“Ahhhh, the start of another prep football season. Some thoughts that immediately come to mind: manicured fields, sweat, hamburgers on the grill, drums, fans, atmosphere, hope. I especially love the small-town version of prep football. It is cliché, but being from a small town myself, I enjoy the sense of pride a program can give to the community. The bond built between townsfolk, many of whom are former players themselves or have been associated with the program in some fashion over the years, is special. Being in a fraternity of former players is special as well, and I enjoy the friendships that are rekindled and the memories that are stoked this time of year.
“I enjoy the intricacies, logistics and atmosphere of the smaller school venues. Who cares if the visitors’ side seats only 200 people? A seat does not matter; the atmosphere is what matters, and I will put the atmosphere of a hotly contested game between two well respected small schools against a similar game between larger schools any day, especially on Fridays. Small school football fans are like SEC fans, passionate almost to a fault. Fans at games for larger schools are like NFL fans, still very passionate but by and large it is not personal. Fans of small schools take it personal, and I love that.”
Senior cheerleader at Signal Mountain
“It took the whole community to get the school up here, and it’s awesome to see the community come out and support the school and the football team. It’s all ages from the little kids that look up to the players and cheerleaders.”
Red Bank booster
“Just the chill bumps for me. Seeing the community come out and support the coaches and the players. We have a lot of old-timers who live for Friday night, including pregame festivities. There are kids who have come and gone and the grandparents are still there on Friday nights with that passion for the program and the support. It’s all part of the pride of the program.”
Former coach and now the principal at Meigs County, where he has a son playing his second year of varsity football
“I guess what makes it special is that in a small town like this it becomes a community event. There’s nothing else in Meigs County that brings so many people together. Then throw in the fact that we’re all pulling for the same common cause, it’s just special.”
Wife of East Hamilton coach Ted Gatewood
“Friday nights in the fall have always been special for both me and Ted. It began with high school days at Red Bank, where I cheered for him in the blue and white. Next came the exciting nights in Marietta where I would come, rain or shine, while toting around my three young children. The kids never missed a game. They came in infant carriers and strollers, which progressed on to dressing up in cheerleading uniforms and football pads. During our time at Ooltewah they were allowed to be water girls and water boy.
“The atmosphere at football games on Friday nights is so exciting. I love to get there early and tailgate with friends and watch warm-ups. Football has always been a family event, and it’s even more special now that my son is getting the chance to play for his dad. As a mom, I cherish every moment that Austin is part of this team because I know time will go by so fast.
“Having both a husband and a son on the team makes Friday nights even more exciting for the whole family. If we win, the weekends are great for everyone, but on the flip side, a loss can ruin a weekend. I have learned not to make weekend plans until after the game is over. Although our girls are grown, they still come to the games and support the team just as they did when they were young. Win or lose, Ted knows that at the end of every game, he will find me and the kids waiting for him in the end zone.”
Unum lead disability benefits specialist and former high school player in Virginia
“The sounds of cleats: Click clack! The smell of sweat inside a uniform. Kids pumping their fists, getting each other hyped! Hitting each other while listening to their favorite song to get amped up before a game, a song that their parents probably wouldn’t approve of. The hours training, preparing, the butterflies leading into the Friday night lights. A young man visualizing the game before it happens.
“High school football is great and is more special in smaller towns. Myself not being from a small town and now living in one, I have a much different appreciation for it now than before, having close friends who were brought up in small towns surrounded by those where high school football is king.
“It’s also about kids facing adversity — how they deal with it and how they learn from it. In dealing with adversity, character is built that carries with them the rest of their lives. Personal growth that many cannot imagine is developed going through the conditioning drills and practice sessions. Wind sprints in 100 degree temperature with humidity are no fun for anyone; you begin to question your survival. You question yourself, how do you get through it? How do you react when your mistake costs the entire team? It’s about relying on your teammates to pick you up and picking up your teammates to achieve the ultimate goal of victory. A common trust is formed.
“The conditioning and development of mental toughness carries on not only the field but the classroom, community, family. The kids are who make high school football what it is. Who doesn’t get goose bumps when they go to a small-town high school football game? I know I do. High school football also produces the greatest love of all in the South, college football.”
Mother of South Pittsburg coaches Vic and Heath Grider and widow of former coach Don
“Pirates football has been an important part of my family for nearly 50 years. Seeing my sons on the sideline on Friday nights following in their father’s footsteps makes it special and certainly an honor being a wife and mother of state championship coaches.”
Q93.9 radio in Cleveland
“Why I love high school football — it’s in the sights, sounds and smells. That first look at the freshly painted turf, perfect in so many ways, and your first whiff of the grass, cut just that morning. It’s probably the only time all season that the field will look that great. There’s no describing the excitement created as you walk into the stadium and get that first whiff of hamburgers on the grill and popcorn in the air. The sweet smell of the perfume-drenched, face-painted cheerleaders ready to cheer on their teams. And then, off in the distance, you hear it! The first tell-tale signs of the marching band with the staccato beat of the drum section leading the path to the field. They’ll line up for the team to run through the hand-painted signs of the cheereleaders while the crowd erupts for the home side, and we’re ready for another season. Catch yourself too close to the sidelines and you’ll get a head-clearing jolt coming from the players in their sweaty uniforms. Throw in halftime and postgame celebrations and you’ve got America in a nutshell. Ah, high school football, nothing like it in my world!”
Baylor School assistant to the athletic director and wife of baseball coach and former football assistant Gene Etter
“In Chattanooga, fall Friday nights are synonymous with high school football. This has been a way of life for me since I married into a Chattanooga-area football family by the name of Etter. It became even more important to me when I accepted the job of assistant to the athletic director at Baylor School. My life is daily intertwined with everyone connected to its final production on Friday night. I celebrate when they are successful and feel disappointment when their efforts are thwarted.
“Friday night football unites the coaches, faculty, students, parents and fans to one cause. I have seen firsthand how many hours are spent preparing for this finished Friday night product, and I loudly cheer for ‘our’ team.”
Dalton radio announcer and teacher who is about to release a two-volume book on the Catamounts
“Friday night means Harmon Field. In 18 years on the radio for the Catamounts, I have visited amazing facilities and met many wonderful people, but the highlight of the fall is being at Dalton’s home field. There’s nothing like being in the press box hours before kickoff and seeing the stadium come alive. The stands slowly fill with red, the opposing team walks the grass, the band warms up, and the smell of grills is everywhere. Moms and dads congregate by the fieldhouse gate to welcome the team to the stadium, and everywhere the children who are the future of the program run and play. And if it’s cool, especially the first cool night of the fall, it is heaven.
“In Dalton there are people who have been in the stands for 50 years or more — it is an incredible connection to the past. Since 1924, the Catamounts have been a constant in a world of change. Friday nights are a celebration of that history as much as they celebrate the team taking the field. God only gave me so many nights to watch Harmon Field come alive, and I plan to take full advantage of each one.”
Father of Ridgeland coach Mark Mariakis and grandfather of Josh, a first-year assistant at LFO
“Finally, Friday night football is here! The older I get the more I look forward to Friday night football. This might have something to do with the fact that I have two sons and a grandson coaching — at three different schools.
“Football has always been a part of our family. My sons started playing at ages 5 or 6, then school football, and after college, coaching. Our Sunday dinners are sure to be more like a three-ring circus, but that’s all right as long as we are involved in football. The season just doesn’t last long enough for me. My only problem now is trying to find a shirt I can put three team logos on: Ridgeland, LaFayette and Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe.
“I did lose a lot of sleep one week last year. That was when my sons, Mark, coach at Ridgeland, and Keith, coach at LaFayette, played. I had a shirt made with ‘Ridgeland’ on one side and ‘LaFayette’ on the other. I stayed on the LaFayette sideline the first half and then turned the shirt around to ‘Ridgeland’ and went to their side for the second half. I have never been more nervous in my life but was OK as soon as the final whistle blew.
“I look forward to this year’s season and wish the best for my three teams. I’m just more than ready for it to get started.”
Rhea County schools superintendent and former coach
“I spent 18 years on the sidelines. To me Friday night is when community can come together — when problems of work and week can be put aside when you watch our sons and daughters go together and represent the entire community. When the lights go on and you smell the food from the concession stand, it stirs up the feeling that this world is going to be OK. I go to a game with the idea I can worry about the commitments on Monday morning.”
Dr. Paul Apyan
“Being the team physician at Hixson High School for the past 10 years has been both a privilege and a lot of fun. It has been my way of giving back and staying connected with my community. Not many people get the opportunity to do what I have done. I’ve enjoyed watching many of our young athletes develop and grow over the years.”
Sponsor and co-coach of Ooltewah’s TSSAA award-winning dance team, the Red Hots
“We look forward to football season all year. The girls are selected early in the spring. and then we start working on our sideline performances and programs. We go everywhere with them, including in the playoffs. Everything they do, we try to be there. We don’t miss a football game.
“The atmosphere at Ooltewah is impressive. There’s a lot of school spirit and tradition. There’s tailgating. We have a great band. We just love every minute of it.”
School board member and Howard public-address announcer
“It’s one of the most exciting times of the year for myself and my wife. Even though we’re big Howard supporters, we really support all the schools in our area. I look forward to being up in that booth, hollering for the Hustlin’ Tigers.
“We have our little fundraisers and try to raise donations, but we’ll also buy sodas and popcorn for some of the kids, too. We just want to make sure everybody has a good time.”
Longtime host of “Stump on Sports” television show
“I love everything about high school football because each game brings back memories of 42 years ago, when I played. There’s something pure about football at the high school level. The sound of the band’s cadence as the members march onto the field. The cheerleaders lined up to lead the team to battle. The chain crews that have worked together for years. The same public address announcer’s voice. The smell of the popcorn as you walk by the concession stands, and the fans gathered before the game in anticipation of how their team is going to do. And finally, the players on the field who have sacrificed just to be a member of the team. Not everybody can play football, and that’s what makes it special.”
Former News-Free Press executive sports editor
“To me it is the purity, the oh so simple way an individual who knows hardly anyone else on the team shows up that very first day as a freshman and begins to learn what teamwork is all about. High school football has taught countless thousands of young boys how to play together and become something much larger than themselves.
“Go back and look at World War II: The commanders wanted high school team players on all strategic efforts because they realized that if a boy knew if a team played together it could accomplish more than one man could alone.
“Winning, sure, that is the ultimate goal, but did he learn that all sweat and blood tastes the same? So does winning. Triumph is an American value, be it in Duluth or Marietta, and when a 16-year-old realizes that doing his job is multiplied by his teammates doing theirs, the result is so magnificent it can win a war, accomplish victory on a given Friday night or achieve greatness at any level.
“What high school football is for countless kids — no matter of background or race or location — the first big step in understanding ‘we’ can accomplish what ‘I’ cannot. It is the most pure method of accomplishment a ninth-grader will ever know. Or a senior will ever forget.”
High school referee who takes office this morning as a Hamilton County commissioner
“Friday nights are still communities coming together. Even if it isn’t what it was when we were there, it’s still a big deal. Always exciting even before the games, and it’s great to see the bands, the cheerleaders and the community volunteers come together to put a game on. The stuff leading up to the game — the prep work — is as much fun as the game itself. That’s where you get a sense of community, taking pride in the stadium when a lot of eyes are on your school and your community. Football is still the focal point of many schools and has a lot to do with the school’s reputation.”
Retired Calhoun coach (and husband of Calhoun’s softball coach) who still attends every game with his special-needs adopted son
“Friday night football at Phil Reeve Stadium in Calhoun takes me back to 1946, when as a 12-year-old I saw my first football game. I have not strayed far or often from the Yellow Jacket football scene in the 61 seasons since that time. As a student in early high school, the Friday night games were the most exciting events of the school year.
“Anyone visiting Phil Reeve Stadium will be seeing games on the same site since the middle 1940s. The sidelines are cramped and crowded, but it is still the most exciting place to watch a ballgame. Calhoun and Dalton share the common distinction of not having a track around the football field. The closeness of the fans to the game makes for an exciting situation.
“Coach Hal Lamb has brought a new era of ultra-success to Calhoun’s program. Eleven region championships and last year’s state championship are something this old native and ex-coach did not dream of ever seeing. It is a dream come true. Four consecutive region championships and a state championship while playing in Class C in the early 1950s pale in comparison to the achievements of the last decade.
“The scene this year when some 120 kids will dress out and the Jacket marching band, 240 strong, marches onto the field is as impressive as it gets. Over 50 percent of Calhoun High’s student body will participate in some fashion on Friday night. It just doesn’t get any better than this for me, as I will take Little Andy Bowen to the sidelines for the 32nd year.”
Ringgold assistant coach and a former quarterback who played at Whitwell for his father, Vernon
“Friday night to me is a culmination of a week of hard work. It’s a stage for the community to come out to each week and hopefully be proud of what they see. You spend time preparing for an opponent each week and hope the boys execute well enough to pull out a victory.
“I’ve been on a sideline since I was 7 or 8 years old. It’s a sense of pride. It’s a sense of belonging. You put all your heart and soul into it, and when you win it’s that much better. I remember helping my dad when I was in middle school and being more upset about losing a game than the players. I grew up with it. I don’t know anything different. I know the only place I want to be on Friday night is a ballfield. It’s that important to me because I know what I got out of football.”
UTC assistant coach and former Boyd-Buchanan quarterback
“High school is the ultimate for passion and excitement. I’ll always remember the lights and playing in small towns. It was such a different community. Everybody looks forward to Friday. There is such a passion, energy and excitement leading up to Friday night, which is what people live for.”
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