Return to 'normalcy'
The spectacle of Central Texas high school football is back
It’s difficult for outsiders to understand.
One can comprehend the whole Friday Night Lights thing in which an entire small town turns out to watch local heroes play football. After all, the Dairy Queen closes early.
But on Saturday, when more than 15,000 urbanites turn out in 100-plus degree heat in a 100,000-seat stadium, well, an outsider might begin to think another Texan is just telling tall tales.
That is Texas high school football - maximum dedication and loyalty.
On this Saturday of zero week, the first weekend of 2011 High School football — local powerhouses Lake Travis and Westlake drew 17,443 to Darrell K Royal Memorial Stadium on the University of Texas campus.
“This is about pride, this is about school, this is what it’s all about.”
These are no standard teams, even for Texas. Lake Travis is working this year on what could be its fifth straight state championship. Westlake has been to the state championship game seven times, winning it in 1996.
They call it The 2011 Great Lake Showdown on the largest scoreboard in amateur sports, 55 feet by 134 feet. Fans just call it a return to their normal Texas fall routine. Finally.
“It’s a way of life we accept in the South,” said Westlake Chaparral superfan Ed Ramsey. “It teaches young men character, perseverance, team work. In this particular school there is an aura that attracts you. It’s all pretty nerve wracking, you get involved in it.”
Ramsey gets the "superfan" title because he’s seen every Westlake varsity football game for the last 18 years. He’s never had any offspring on the team, but he’s been the most loyal follower imaginable. “I’ve just always been a fan,” the 82-year-old said, “I have many friends from this.”
On the other side of the same stadium was Lake Travis Cavalier fan Keith Harvill. He’s in his 17th year as a Cavs fan, having missed only one game in that time. His son was on the 2007 state championship team, but he started following Lake Travis based on his involvement in the Youth Football Association, watching precocious kids turn into superstars.
Yet he loves high school football for the purity. “It’s about the game. It’s not about the money, it’s the pageantry,” Harvill said. “This is about pride, this is about school, this is what it’s all about.”
This particular game, now a first-week tradition for the schools, is played on the biggest stage in the region, one of the top three in the football-crazy state. Although scattered, the fans fill the lower bowl of the gigantic stadium from goal line to goal line, even though the temperature at game time was about 105.
The half time show featured scores of performers in full heat-absorbing regalia. The athletes compete on the same field they first watched many players they now see on television playing professionally on Sundays.
“It’s for the kids,” Westlake’s Ramsey said. “This is everything to these kids. They want to play in this stadium.”
“It gives them goose bumps,” LT’s Harvill said of the players. “It gives us all goose bumps. It creates atmosphere.”
Also working the sidelines were not one, but two, Chap mascots in felt roadrunner costumes with big heads. The mascots aren’t allowed to speak while in costume, but with animated sign language (they are mascots after all) they communicated their preparation — hydrating and working out. They admit that although they stayed costumed throughout the game, snuck off to the locker room now and then for a break.
Supporting the Lake Travis team was Lyndsey King deckout in a full cheerleader outfit with pom poms. She emphasized she is not five years old, but “almost six.” “I joined up for LTYA (Lake Travis Youth Association),” she explained flashing a deep dimple. Although she has all the accoutrements of cheerleading, it isn’t just about fashion for her. “I do cheers,” she notes proudly.
She likes being at the Lake Travis stadium even better than the big UT site because she gets to cheer on the field with the big girls.
Despite Lyndsey’s limited years, she feels she is already a veteran of high school football with memories ingrained. “I remember when that guy broke his foot,” she notes.
By the way, Lake Travis won 35-7.