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Friday Night Lights: More Than Just Football

Cheerleaders, band, drill team all make it special

I am biased, of course, being a Texan, but in my view, nothing is better than Friday Night Lights in the Lone Star state when everything stops for high school football.  But Friday evenings are so much more than football: the cheerleaders, band, drill team, students, and players running on to the field through their team banner all add to the excitement and pageantry.

Our local team is getting ready to go to the playoffs.  Last week I overheard two men debating which had the better athletes this year: the offense or the defense? One said it was the quickness of the offense that gave it the edge; the other said the strength and size of defense tipped the scales in its favor.  I chimed in that they were overloooking the athletic prowess of the drill team, not to mention the cheerleaders, and said that the band deserved at least honorable mention for the effort, energy and talent it displayed in its performances.  Not surprisingly, my comments were met with a lukewarm response at best.  But, as a proud drill team mom, I knew how much time and energy and sweat went into making their precision dances look so flawless and effortless.  Football? Well, it  just looked hard!Cheerleaders

Friday night Olympics

It got me wondering if there was a way to decide who the ultimate athletic performers were on Friday night, and I thought perhaps that the ancient Greeks might help provide the answer.  Three thousand years and thousands of miles may separate us, but the Greeks were, after all, the one who invented sports and coined the term athlete in the first place.  The athletes competing on Mount Olympus fired up the crowd more than any stadium wave.  The core values of sport - that all athletes, whether they win or lose, bring honor to themselves, their families and their communities just by participating and competing to the best of their ability - are the same today as they were back then, although the ancient tradition of competing in the nude, covered only in olive oil and dust, thank goodness, has given way to uniforms (One can only imagine where athletes would display the Nike swoosh on their naked bodies!)

If I used the original Olympic games as a model, perhaps I could come up with a way to find the Friday night football equivalent of the foot races, long jump, javelin and discus throwing, wrestling, and chariot racing in which the ancient Greeks competed.  Chariot racing? Well, scratch chariot racing, although I guess the competition for spots in the parking lot before the game right before kickoff might qualify as the modern day equivalent.

Off to the races

With the chariot racing out of the way, it was time for the Games to begin! 

The ancient Greeks started their games with music and drama, so score one for the band and drill team for their entertaining pre-game and half time shows.

For the foot race, the football team would seem to have the edge.  After all, many players could run the standard 40-yard dash in about 4.5 seconds. I timed the drill team in a similar 40 yard "strut" to hit their mark to start their routine. The girls hit their spots, all in unison, in under 6 seconds.  But of course, the drill team is handicapped: they have to strut or glide, which does not allow for a bend of the knee, so that girls with short legs hit the same mark at the same time as those with long legs. It is almost as if they are flying.  As for cheerleaders, I bet they could cover 40 yards in a tumbling run in about 4 to 6 seconds, too.  So, let's call it a draw.

Feats of strength

Tossing a discus and wrestling both required enormous strength. The drill team can't compete in the strength arena against the football players.  After all, they don't have to dance around with a 250-pound prop. As for the cheerleaders, they do perform a lot of lifts, but most of the time they are just wave around pom-poms that probably don't weigh much more than a fraction of a pound.  So score one point for the football team, although I would give the tuba players in the marching band some credit in the strength department for being able to simultaneously march around in correct time and play in tune while holding a heavy instrument!

In the long jump category, the cheerleaders would seem to have the edge. The drill team performs lovely, stretched out jetes, but the cheerleaders cover more ground during their back-flips.  Being in the band does not require jumping and, except for wide receivers and running backs leaping for the end zone, football players don't jump either. 

Not to win but to take part.

No doubt the ancient Greeks would have a difficult time picking the best athlete or most dedicated performer in the bunch.  I am sure they would have appreciated the communities' support, not only of its athletes, but of the achievements of its students in the classroom, the dance and art studio, and on the stage.  And I bet  the Frito Pie and Hot Dr. Pepper would have been a HUGE hit at the concession stand at their Games. 

Before they headed back to Mount Olympus with their stadium seat-backs and foam fingers, I am also sure the judges would have been pleased to learn that the principles that they cherished are alive and well today: that young athletes, musicians, acrobats, and dancers still bring honor to all of us by dedicating their time and talent to each other and their communities. The hours they spend getting ready for games every weekend may go unseen by most.  But it is all those pre-dawn workouts, and practices stretching from afternoon long into the night, that make Friday Night Lights so special.

In the end, I think, they are all winners because they all take part, they all contribute their talents, and, in doing so, they are showcasing special gifts sent straight from the Greek gods.

Gretchen Rose is a wife and mom of a teen and tween in Dallas, Texas. She and her husband are owners of KidzMat, the premier organizational equipment for all youth sports teams.

Posted November 4, 2011