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A common sight on Friday nights in the fall: a high school team racing to begin their battle against an opponent, in this case the Orange (CA) Lutheran Lancers. Photo courtesy of MaxPreps.com

 

I’ll be perfectly honest…

The next-to-last football game I saw that involved 15, 16 and 17 year-old players was four years ago.

(Incidentally, the last one was a couple of years later. I thought it would involve a cousin of mine but discovered upon arriving at the game that he wasn’t playing, which was why I left after halftime – but that’s besides the point)

Without mentioning the names of the schools, it involved the local team and the team from my high school alma mater, located only five miles from where I lived, in a CIF (California Interscholastic Federation) playoff semifinal match that determined who would punch their ticket to the championship game.

The atmosphere was fairly charged as the stands were packed, the cheerleaders and marching bands doing their thing.

It reminded me of something out of the acclaimed book/movie/TV show Friday Night Lights, except from one thing:

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Gardena (CA) Serra High School Cavaliers during a break in a recent game. Photo courtesy of MaxPreps.com

 

While both schools I saw have their boosters and core group of supporters, the Friday Night Lights analogy was an abberation of sorts as like roughly 95 percent of the high school football teams in Southern California, reading or watching that iconic franchise set in the West Texas plains gives an illustration of what the prep scene in the greater Los Angeles and Orange County areas are not.

At least not compared to Odessa Permian High School (featured in the book and the movie) and fictional Dillon High School (featured in the TV series).

Only a handful of schools in SoCal can rightfully make any comparison to those in that Lone Star State – or those various longtime football powers in Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania – among them being Santa Ana Mater Dei and Long Beach Poly, who incidentally has sent more players to the NFL than any school in the nation.

Bellflower St. John Bosco, Gardena Serra and Corona Centennial have been among the top teams lately, but their dominance has been a fairly recent affair as what I’m talking about are high school teams that have been perennial contenders and champions for thirty and forty years or more.

And as far as high school football culture and atmosphere are concerned, even those schools pale in comparison those places in Texas (in particular) that regularly see crowds of 20,000 in stadiums that rival the big college and NFL palaces.

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Players from Roosevelt (in cardinal and gold) and Garfield (in white) High Schools in East Los Angeles stand behind the trophy given to the winner of their annual East L.A. Classic showdown. Photo courtesy of espn.go.com

 

The only high school game in our neck of the woods that draws that many people? The East L.A. Classic pitting the Garfield Bulldogs and the Roosevelt Rough Riders in a game dating back to 1925 that means absolutely everything to the folks in that community.

Otherwise, high school sports are not that big a deal in an area like Los Angeles, where there are SO many other things to do.

Indeed, in the part of L.A. where I live, most people see football as “just a game” and don’t really care too much whether or not their local high school team is an undefeated champion or a Bad News Bears-like winless bunch.

The fact that issues such as brain injuries and a too-large number of players dropping dead in practices and games, including a nine-year old collapsing and dying in Ohio during a youth football practice this week, doesn’t help football’s appeal.

I’m sure when it comes to participation in football, many mothers have this strong opinion:

“Why should I let my son (or daughter, as the number of girls on the gridiron is ever-increasing) get his head kicked in every day when there are SO many safer sports available? I’m putting him/her into baseball/basketball/soccer!”

That seems to a particularly common sentiment in the more affluent areas near where I am.

To sum everything up…

While there are high schools in SoCal where the fortunes of the football team mean everything to that school’s community, for at least 95% of the 721 schools in the CIF’s Southern and Los Angeles City sections,

Football is “just a game” and not that big a deal.

 

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Santa Ana (CA) Mater Dei High School’s Monarchs showing their pride at a game. Photo courtesy of MaxPreps.com

 

 

 

 

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