It was too dark to for my children to read or draw (though they still would have tried), and the boys knew they'd want a little time with FarFar and FarMor (Grandpa and Grandma) before going to bed so we decided it would be best to try and rest a little in the last leg of the drive. Nils requested classical music instead of the book on CD we had been listening to.
I scanned the local radio stations. Several times. No classical music was available. We did hear at least twenty different high school football games. Honestly. Twenty.
There is one, maybe two, larger high schools in northwest Iowa, but no major metro areas. These are mainly small-town schools (or what has emerged from consolidations). And football is what the radio stations air on a Friday night.
Part of the surprise of this is that there are people not at the football game that would be listening to it on the radio. There were no towns anywhere but at the high school football field in the few towns we drove through where a game was occuring.
The football games are not simply popular because there's nothing else to do (indeed, there may be nothing else to do because the football games are so popular), but because that is what you do in a small town. You support each other. Especially the youth.
I grew up on a farm outside a town of less than a thousand people. The other town in our school district was home to a few hundred at best. But on Friday night, the bleachers were packed no matter how cold it got.
In the winter, the bleachers in the gym were full. I remmeber taking the court during the basketball game and seeing almost the entire town there cheering us on with fanaticism.
I'm not going to try and paint a rosy picture where everyone stayed out of trouble because of that. But I do think it mattered. I don't think one person in the school wasn't aware that there was an entire community out there that supported them in whatever they did. Music concerts, school plays, homecoming parades, even magazine sales.
Those who were able to find work and stick around have become a part of that. Some of us left for big cities or big adventures. Some had to leave in order to find gainful employment. But even now there are those in the community who still support us and cheer us on in our endeavors.
Call it nostalgia if you want, but those Friday night lights are at the heart of small town living for me. I didn't play football, but I was there for every home game (I was in the marching band). I didn't see a lot of time on the basketball court, but I knew that the fans were cheering just as loudly for me as they were for my friends who were tall and skillful enough to be good.
I was excited to hear all those games on the radio. I didn't know any of the players' names. Even some of the school names are unfamiliar to me now. It may be that none of them go on to play any sort of professional football. But it doesn't matter who wins or looses, or how good the teams are. The radio stations are still broadcasting from tiny little press boxes perched above the bleachers because what happens on a Friday night matters to that community where the bright lights are shining down on 100 yards of turf.
And what happens matters to them because they know that supporting those kids matters for the future. For those students' futures. For the community's future.