high school football in texas -- 5/12/17

Today's selection -- from Friday Night Lights by H.G. Bissinger. The importance of high school football in Odessa, Texas, in the 1980s was told by Buzz Bissinger in a book that famously went on to be a best-seller, a movie, and a television series. The values of Odessa, the author suggests, belong to all "factory towns and farm towns and steel towns and single-econ­omy towns" trying to survive:

"It became apparent that [Odessa, Texas] was a town where high school football went to the very core of life. From the glimpses of the Southside and the FOR SALE signs and the unwanted machinery filling up the yards of Highway 80, it also became apparent that this was a town with many other currents running through it as well.

"There seemed to be an opportunity in Odessa to observe not simply the enormous effect of sports on American life, but other notions, for the values of Odessa were ones that firmly belonged to a certain kind of America, an America that existed beyond the borders of the Steinberg cartoon, an America of factory towns and farm towns and steel towns and single-econ­omy towns all trying to survive. ...

"What did people hold on to as they watched their economic lifeblood slip from them? What did they hold on to as they watched their country slip from them? What had hap­pened to their America?

"My heart told me that I would find the answers to all these questions in Odessa, not because it was a Texas town, but an American one. ...

"It was in Odessa that I found those Friday night lights, and they burned with more intensity than I had ever imagined. Like thousands of others, I got caught up in them. So did my wife. So did my children. As someone later described it, those lights become an addiction if you live in a place like Odessa, the Fri­day night fix.

"But I also found myself haunted by something else, the words of a father with a son who had gone to Permian and had later become a world-class sprinter in track.

"He saw the irresistible allure of high school sports, but he also saw an inevitable danger in adults' living vicariously through their young. And he knew of no candle that burned out more quickly than that of the high school athlete.

" 'Athletics lasts for such a short period of time. It ends for people. But while it lasts, it creates this make-believe world where normal rules don't apply. We build this false atmo­sphere. When it's over and the harsh reality sets in, that's the real joke we play on people .... Everybody wants to experience that superlative moment, and being an athlete can give you that. It's Camelot for them. But there's even life after it.'

"With the kind of glory and adulation these kids received for a season of their lives, I am not sure if they were ever encour­aged to understand that. As I stood in that beautiful stadium on the plains week after week, it became obvious that these kids held the town on their shoulders.

"Odessa is the setting for this book, but it could be anyplace in this vast land where, on a Friday night, a set of spindly sta­dium lights rises to the heavens to so powerfully, and so briefly, ignite the darkness."

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H.G. Bissinger


Friday Night Lights, 25th Anniversary Edition: A Town, a Team, and a Dream


Da Capo Press


Copyright 1990 by H. G. Bissinger


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