Greenville HS Flaming Flashes uniform (left), Phillips HS Cheerleader's uniform,megaphone and pom pom (middle) and Texas HS Cheerleader's uniform (right)
Photo by Jay B Sauceda
1936 Game poster Waco High vs. Bryan High at Waco Stadium (left) 1947 MissionEagles Football Schedule (top right) 1952 December calendar of The LubbockWesterners (bottom right)
Photo by Jay B Sauceda
Whether you played it, you cheered it on in the stands, you were in the band or you sold concessions, football has had an effect on every Texan.
As a nerdy high school student in the desert wasteland of Mesa, Arizona, football wasn’t a way of life for me. But after coming to Austin for graduate school and living in a sea of burnt orange, I finally get it.
A new exhibit at The Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum highlights and celebrates the game that so profoundly colors the lives of so many people from our great state, telling the story like it’s never been told before. And it's enough to make a believer out of anyone.
You may know Patoski as a popular writer of small town Texas oddities and oral histories. Without question, the friendly native Texan knows his history and has amassed some of the greatest treasures from the last century into a thorough and fully immersive collection of a subject he clearly loves.
Patoski designed the exhibit to spotlight the undeniable feeling of community engendered by high school football. More than just the well-publicized thrill of a 5A State Championship, the Bullock’s exhibit includes a “bragger’s table” at a local Dairy Queen, an interactive virtual mums builder and menus from stadium concessions stands.
“In some small towns, the high school is the only gathering spot for the community, so football includes so much more than just the players on the field,” points out Patoski.
In fact, small towns and six-man football teams get as much attention in the exhibit as the larger 5A teams that populate Texas’s suburbs. After all, this is the shared story of a massive state. And as high school football super fan Bennie Cotton puts it: “Sometimes you can see it easier in the small towns.”
More Than The Game cleverly captures the sensory experience of high school football through a pre-game, on the field and post-game examination. As you wind through the exhibit hall, you can hear the crowd cheering and the band playing from a distance, always reminded of the big game ahead.
The pre-game area preps you for what’s to come, introducing the history and mythology that present day games are built upon. Images and uniforms provide the evidence that legendary players like Jack Pardee and Ken "The Sugar Land Express" Hall played the same game we enjoy today.
Immaculately preserved mascot costumes like Austin High’s iconic “Mr. Maroo” and Hamlin High’s “Pied Piper” share space with the Port Neches-Groves High’s Indian, the authentic Native mascot endorsed by the Cherokee Nation.
Next, Patoski takes us through a tunnel of looped, recorded warm-ups both in the locker room and out in the bleachers. The prayers, the pep talks, the anxiety and the excitement are as real and passionate as any episode of the accurate and inspired Friday Night Lights.
As you head under the super-sized inflatable game day tunnel, you step out onto “the field” which is covered with authentic Astroturf, just like they used at the Astrodome in 1966. It feels squishier than I’d imagined, but also somehow empowering.
Throughout the field room, the focus is on famous players, coaches, band members, cheerleaders and dancers. Mannequins sport authentic costumes and uniforms, including a jersey from Saints quarterback Drew Brees who famously led Westlake High to their undefeated 1996 season.
The final portion of the exhibit highlights the officials, fans and media who devote their hearts to the game. Controversial redistricting maps, for example, show the complicated (“unscientific”) method used by the school districts to determine the boundaries that effect teams and towns so tremendously.
A corner of the exhibit space is even dedicated to super fan Cotton who is known to take in up to 65 games in a ten-week season. Included in the display is a detailed ledger of the games he's attended: the dates, the players, the final scores and his analysis. The one thing these impressive records omit is how many miles Cotton drives each season, becuase he admits he doesn't even want to know how far he's pilgrimaged.
With the iconography and reverence to The Game, the religious connections are undeniable. When asked about football’s religiosity, Patoski answers immediately. “[Texas football] is bigger than religion. It cuts across all differences in a town. Everyone can agree on a single winner.”
The effect is powerful, and the exhibit will appeal to everyone—even a nerdy kid from Mesa, Arizona.
Texas High School Football: More Than The Game is on display in the Albert & Ethel Herzstein Hall of Special Exhibitions July 30 - Jan 22.
Selected Texas football programming happens throughout October. Check TheStoryofTexas.com for details and updates.
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The first concert to kick off the series on March 25 featured Rosie Flores, known for her country-rock vocals and her talent for singing across multiple genres. She has released 13 albums since her debut in 1987 – her latest album Simple Case of the Blues was released in 2019.
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