Prep sports. Here in the South, we take 'em pretty darn seriously, especially when it comes to football, which is practically a religion for many come fall.
But think about the word "prep" for a minute. It's short for "preparatory," rooted in "prepare." And that's exactly what high school football does for players across the country. Not only does it prepare them for a possible college football future, when you get down to it, it prepares them to become men. It prepares them for life. It prepares them to make hard choices and sacrifices. Lest you think I'm waxing melodramatic, let me explain further.
The decision to play high school football isn't one that can be entered into on a whim. For what might be the first time, a young person is asked to make a decision: Are you willing to make the necessary sacrifices to support your choice? This means that a teenager is agreeing to give up summer break early, spend hours and hours in mind-melting heat running, getting yelled at — a lot — lifting, tackling, and being tackled instead of hanging out playing video games or chilling at the pool. It means giving up after-school time and weekends, and it also means that the student makes the agreement to keep his grades up for the privilege of playing. No grades, no game.
So maybe those Friday night lights don't shine as brightly as the ones illuminating college fields, and networks don't televise the event to the nation. Heck, many high school games are played in front of almost empty bleachers. But the ones who are in the stands are there to cheer on their friends, sons, classmates, not a PR-hyped "jersey name" or players they only know from TV.
High school football isn't about the glory (okay, maybe there is a little glory for a winning team strutting down the hallways, high-fiving on Monday morning), and it's certainly not about the money (Albert Means incidents aside). It's about teaching young people the basics of teamwork, integrity, and dedication. It's about laying the foundation for whatever lies ahead and making men out of boys, giving young people the chance to prove — to themselves and their schools — that they have the resolve to see something of their own choosing through till the end. Leaving them, in a word, prepared for whatever their futures may hold.
—Mary Helen Tibbs
College football is the only sport where the word "pageantry" can become overused . . . and remain appropriate. High school football has its charms (or its Texas obsessions) and the pro game commands Sunday afternoons as a nationwide festival of disparate rooting interests. But on fall Saturdays, on campuses large and small, from one coast to the other, it's the pageantry of college football that makes the falling leaves dance.
I've sat with 100,000 orange-clad maniacs in Neyland Stadium, watching the University of Tennessee Vols take the field as the Pride of the Southland Band "splits the T." I've sat with, oh, 650 of my best friends at Tufts University, watching another team with a "T" on their helmets play the likes of Amherst, Middlebury, and Williams, games where passing was all but disallowed. I've sat with another 100,000 fans — West Coast variety — for Stanford's annual "Big Game" with Cal. Surrounded by my sister's friends — a few of whom knew what a two-point conversion was — I witnessed a contest between the Cardinals and Bears that determined a year's bragging rights (Nobel Prizes be damned).
College football — originally a sport of the privileged Ivy League — has grown into a cultural phenomenon second only to religion in the way it binds (and divides) Americans. Are you an SEC fan or do you have Big 10 roots? Was your daddy a Bulldog or a Rebel? (Wedding plans have been changed, folks.) If you think life took pause when Elvis died, ask an Alabama fan about January 26, 1983. The Bear is alive , to this day.
I've cheered and covered all kinds of sports over the years, but the most loyal, the most tried-and-true fans I see in Memphis are U of M football fans. With a "tradition" that can best be described as wanting, playing in a stadium that fills solely for SEC competition, and in a basketball town no less, Tiger football fans set up their campers, tents, and pickups on fall Saturdays, counting down the hours till kickoff at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. Sure, it's a game they're attending, and yes, they'd like to see a win. But the pageantry of college football. That's the draw.
— Frank Murtaugh
Mary Helen Tibbs, Frank Murtaugh