Growing up in Tulsa, I didn’t attend many high school football games as a student. I only recall attending three games during my prep days.
My high school, Will Rogers, didn’t have a football field, so games were played at Skelly Stadium on the campus of Tulsa University, home of the Golden Hurricane. The university and stadium were about a mile from my high school and four blocks north of my boyhood home.
Some years after high school, I got to see an OU vs. TU football game at Skelly Stadium and I attended several USFL games with the Oklahoma Outlaws in the early 1980s there. Doug Williams was the quarterback for the Outlaws. He went on to play and win a Super Bowl with the Washington Redskins. NFL legends, Steve Largent, Howard Twilley Jr. (who was the runner up for the Heisman Trophy in 1965), Drew Pearson, David Rader and Lovie Smith, the former Chicago Bears and current University of Illinois Fighting Illlini football coach, where among TU players and graduates.
Back to prep sports. In Oklahoma, at the time, high schools had spring drills. A good friend of mine, David, and I decided to go out for football our sophomore year to play in the fall of our junior year. That would have been the Spring of 1976. David had played junior high football a couple years. Outside of trying out and not making the basketball team, I ran the mile in junior high, finishing third in a race once.
Anyway, we showed up at the team meeting and some of the upper classman chuckled when we entered the room. It wasn’t long and we were on the practice field running basic drills. Needless to say, neither of us made the team. I was ill prepared to play football. I was big, but wasn’t the most athletic individual back in the day.
One of the coaches, Billy Joe Cagle, was my history teacher in high school. He was an interesting man and probably the only coach who also wrote gospel hymns. That sounds like something a southern high school football coach might enjoy.
Anyway, soon Friday Night Lights will be underway in Iowa. Football is one of my favorite sports and I’m looking forward to being on the sidelines.
As a journalist, I’ve covered lots high school football games. I’ve had the privilege of covering three high schools - Montezuma, BGM and Grinnell - in the state playoffs at the UNI-Dome. Both the Braves and Bears have state runner-up trophies and I was there.
I’ve covered at least two Shrine Bowl games, the last being in 2014 when all three Poweshiek County schools were represented.
I’ve always enjoyed being around the players through the years. I remember one year that I rode the school bus with the English Valley Bears to a game at Russell High School. Russell had an old camper trailer that served as a snack stand and the football field tilted. It looked like the players running toward the south end zone were going to run off the end of the earth.
Russell, which has since closed, had a girl who played on their team that year. I interviewed her for a newspaper column. She played both offense and defense until she got hurt, then only played offense. She was tough and so where her parents. Her mom drove a semi and her dad laid carpet.
Another time, I had my brains knocked out, not once, but twice in the same game. It was the fall of 2000 and I rode the bus with the Montezuma Braves to play Wapello. I was standing on the sidelines and before I knew it, the quarterback for the Indians was carrying the football and tiptoeing up the sidelines. I wasn’t quick enough to get out of his way and he plowed into me. He hit me hard and stuck the ball right in my gut. The impact caused me to fall backwards and land on the track. And if that wasn’t bad enough, later in the first half, I got hit by an offensive lineman and the collision caused me to break my camera lens in half and busted my flash. I ended up with a bruise the size of a watermelon on my belly. Needless to say, I found solitude on the bus.
Thankfully, I have not experienced that in the years since. I’ve had some close calls and several time have had players roll up on me, but I didn’t take a tumble and that is all good.
I know this year is going to be different with the shortened season and COVID-19 playing a role in prep sports. These kids are tough and they will make the best of it. Me, I’m not so tough. When I see a player a few feet from running out of bounds, I’m headed for the hills. There isn’t any football photo worth getting my teeth knocked out. And fixing a broken camera is expensive.
I hope to see you at a game. If you have concerns, bring your mask and come on out and enjoy a game or two.
Have a great week and always remember that “Good Things are Happening,” every day and always.