The Friday Night Lights experience?
September 13, 2009 3:22 PM   Subscribe

I'm a foreigner who wants to go to a US high school football game in the South West, but needs some advice

I'm going to be in the South West in the next few weeks and I'd like to go to a high school football game for the whole Hollywood cliche experience (cheerleaders, marching band, big crowds). Does anything like this actually exist? If so, can anyone recommend a good team to go and watch?

I'll be in Flagstaff, AZ on Friday 25 September and Santa Fe, NM on Friday 2 October.
posted by ganseki to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Yes. Go to Texas.

Or, got to a college football game.
posted by dfriedman at 3:28 PM on September 13, 2009

Pretty much any high school team on a Friday afternoon or evening is either playing at home or away. Flagstaff is a big enough city you should easily be able to choose from several games. In my opinion night games are the true high school football experience.

Just do a search for Flagstaff high schools. Their web sites should list schedules and locations.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 3:40 PM on September 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Flagstaff will probably be disappointing. The closet you're going to get to the Hollywood cliche is a division 5A-I game, most of which will take place in the Phoenix area.

Here are the current AZ high school 5A power rankings. 5A is the top division--biggest schools, most serious football programs.

I agree with dfriedman'll have to go to Texas or perhaps Southern California to see the big HS football spectacles. Seeing a college game would be a good alternative, but Arizona State is playing in Georgia that weekend.
posted by mullacc at 3:40 PM on September 13, 2009

For some reason the big HS (Sinagua) in Flag isn't playing that Friday night. Their game is Saturday the 26th. Coconino is playing Buckeye on the 25th though, and will probably receive a spanking. Flagstaff is, um, not a real winner when it comes to HSFB. Phoenix would certainly provide the experience you're looking for as there's a plethora of 4- and 5A schools there (with huge support systems, ie crowds, bands, and pep squads, etc.), but up north it's gonna be cold, small, and probably boring.
posted by carsonb at 3:42 PM on September 13, 2009

Too bad you won't be in NM on the 26th. UNM vs. NMSU, at University Stadium in Albuquerque, would be a great immersion experience in American football. Neither team are great shakes, but there's an intense rivalry between the schools that always makes for a good time. Santa Fe is more of a soccer kind of town.
posted by Sara Anne at 4:03 PM on September 13, 2009

From Santa Fe you'd be 8 hours from the ground zero of Texas high school football, Midland and Odessa -- that's what "Friday Night Lights" is all about. On the other hand, you'd be a mere 4 hours from Amarillo, which would definitely have what you're looking for. I don't know how quickly it drops off when you get out of Texas, as I am a Texas girl born and raised -- my suburban Houston high school had everything you're looking for, even though the team *sucked*.
Large 5-A high schools have the better support staff (drill team AND cheerleaders, marching band, etc), but the small town games are the ones where everyone in town shows up, regardless of current connections to the high school.
But yes, this definitely exists. Friday Night Lights is very true to life for many people in Texas, big city or small town.
posted by katemonster at 4:07 PM on September 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

My small town high school team has cheerleaders and a marching band. Every high school here does. Yeah, it's not as huge as some of these Texas sized spectacles with million dollar budgets but it's "authentic" and is so common in at least this part of the country as to be impossible to miss.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 4:09 PM on September 13, 2009

"here" being the upper midwest.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 4:11 PM on September 13, 2009

O.M.G. According to this site, Permian HS is playing Odessa HS on Friday, Oct. 2. This is, literally Friday Night Lights. I lived in Odessa from 96-99 and my experience was that they were as obsessed as ever with football. The Permian-Odessa game is THE rivalry, and the one that everybody talks about all year long. I know you're supposed to be in Santa Fe that day, but you could probably get a cheap flight from ABQ to Midland/Odessa on southwest, assuming tickets for the game can be had.

Seriously, Ratliff Stadium holds 18,000 people, and it will be full for the Oct. 2 game. This will be the most authentic US high school football experience you could possibly have. And people out there are very friendly (as long as you're not "pulling for" the other team)--I bet they'd talk your ear off if you told them you came in just to see the game.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 4:35 PM on September 13, 2009 [3 favorites]

You are in for a surprise. It's actually not a Hollywood cliche -- it's for real. Yes, really. At least in Texas, it's basically a religion. I don't have specific recommendations, but just a note that high school football is on Friday nights, while college (university) football is on Saturdays. So don't discount your Saturday options -- college football is like high school football, but bigger. The fans, bands, cheerleaders are all the same basic experience, though.

Also to help with the lingo, a 5A high school is a very big school; a 1A high school is very small (actual numbers of students for each division vary by state). Bigger schools have a larger pool of students to draw from for their teams, so potentially the larger schools have better players (not always), bigger bands, more cheerleaders. Everyone knows the division of the schools in their area. For the full experience, most like what you've seen on TV, go for the 5A schools.
posted by Houstonian at 4:50 PM on September 13, 2009

(And I think it's awesome that you want to do this. It's definitely the non-touristy, what-the-locals-do type of thing.)
posted by Houstonian at 4:59 PM on September 13, 2009 [2 favorites]

Every Texas high school football game has the marching band, the cheerleaders, the spectacle, etc. At least every since one I've witnessed or heard about. For a game not to have all that would be considered odd.
My high school football games (in Texas) had:
-ROTC drill before the Star Spangled Banner
-loud fans
-marching bands complete with halftime show from the home team
-flag girls
-drill team (kick line+ dancing, with ridiculous western outfits along the lines of this)
and we didn't have that great of a football team, and were in a suburban city area rather than a small town. My boyfriend is from a small town in Friday Night Lights territory and they had less of the extra stuff (like no drill team, smaller band), but the football was HUGE. Random adults come see those games, not just the kids and the families.
He suggests trying to make it out to Permian, but you can get a pretty good game in Amarillo even.

If you want to see this, you really should come to Texas. It's a not a cliche here. Believe me-- it's very, very real, whether some of us like it or not.
-a Texan who can't stand football and only went to see her friends in the band or drill team
posted by ishotjr at 5:05 PM on September 13, 2009

Oh, man...that Permian/Odessa game will definitely be crazy-go-nuts. If I had never experienced high school football in Texas and I wanted to, that game would do the job. You will be SHOCKED and look for cameras.

Be sure you walk around a lot. Different zones at high school games offer a completely different experience, as there are long-standing traditions that dictate what people hang out where in and around the stands.
posted by nosila at 5:06 PM on September 13, 2009

Seriously, Ratliff Stadium holds 18,000 people, and it will be full for the Oct. 2 game. This will be the most authentic US high school football experience you could possibly have.

Well, not really; it'll be the grandest-scale US high school football experience you could possibly have, and so in some sense not really typical of the form at all (though surely spectacular.)

I come from the Maryland suburbs, not a football-mad place at all, and our medium-sized high school had a brass band, majorettes, flag girls, and cheerleaders at every game.

If by any chance you're still in Flagstaff the afternoon of the 26th, Northern Arizona University has a home game against Montana at 3:05; that might be on a bigger scale than any high school game you're likely to see.
posted by escabeche at 6:57 PM on September 13, 2009

Ganseki, are you me?

I was about to ask this exact same question last night. The only difference is the dates: I'm somewhere in southern Utah on the 9th of Oct, and ABQ or Santa Fe on the 16th. Are there any good HS/college games to be seen around there?

(Also: I'm planning to drag along some decent camera gear - a DSLR and 300mm monster-lens - in hope of catching some cool photos. Is this a good idea, or am I just asking to have drinks spilled on my gear?)

Sorry for the question-hijack!
posted by The Shiny Thing at 7:11 PM on September 13, 2009

In my experience most of the people watching are parents, family and friends of players or performers. Which can still be a pretty big crowd for a 5A school. Crowds can vary depending on weather and time of day. Usually "Homecoming" is the big crowd game, as well as end of season championships. Otherwise, a college game is generally the same with bigger stadiums and higher turnout.

Frankly, Hollywood cliche fails to capture the boredom of football between downs, the inability to distinguish players, and the discomfort of bleachers. If you go, bring some padding to sit on.
posted by pwnguin at 8:14 PM on September 13, 2009

I don't know if this helps at all but West Texas (Amarillo and Midland) is not that far east of Santa Fe -- not that far meaning a 5 hour drive or less.
posted by fieldtrip at 8:33 PM on September 13, 2009

I don't know if this helps at all but West Texas (Amarillo and Midland) is not that far east of Santa Fe -- not that far meaning a 5 hour drive or less.

To be clear, though, Amarillo's not exactly near Midland/Odessa (it's about 260 miles north). Odessa is 400 miles from Santa Fe. I used to do the drive in about 6 hours, stopping for gas in Roswell (to see the aliens, of course). It is a really, really, really boring drive, though, which is why I recommended flying. There is quite literally nothing to see but dirt, tumbleweeds, and oil derricks.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 9:19 PM on September 13, 2009

You can watch 5A Football in Albuquerque, which is much closer to Santa Fe than Amarillo, though I can't guarantee the experience would be exactly the same.

I'm from a small town in southeastern New Mexico that was a basketball town; football took a backseat. Still, every football game was exactly as you describe. You might be too late to get to a homecoming game, but those are certainly an experience.
posted by sugarfish at 10:24 PM on September 13, 2009

Just reiterating that the hollywood cliche HS football experience you refer to is really a Texas (and maybe other parts of the South) thing. Growing up in Utah, football wasn't even a big deal when I was in HS, and I NEVER hear about HS football as an adult. Never run into HS football fans or signs or anything in UT or CA or NV. People talk about college football here, but never HS.

But when I go to Texas I see HS football everywhere - people are talking about it, wearing team shirts, selling HS football memorabilia at stores... It strikes me as very odd.

So definitely go to Texas if you want that experience.
posted by mmoncur at 11:15 PM on September 13, 2009

In addition to Texas I think you will find that High School football can be a big deal in Ohio and Pennsylvania. For example, Massillion High School in Massillion,Ohio plays in a stadium that seats between 16,000 and 19,000.
posted by mmascolino at 6:17 AM on September 14, 2009

Echoing mmascolino, HS football is a big deal in rural Illinois as well. Growing up outside of Metamora, IL, I remember homecoming as *the* big event of the year - school was let out early, and everybody, adults and children alike, went (well, not my family, but that's because we were outsiders). You can get a taste for the commitment at this page.
posted by dd42 at 8:17 AM on September 14, 2009

I ended up going to Northern Arizona v Montana in Flagstaff (go Lumberjacks!) and watching a bit of Santa Fe High School's game. Great fun.

Thanks for all the advice.
posted by ganseki at 1:42 PM on October 14, 2009

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