Justin R. Erenkrantz Where do you want to go today?

12 Angry Men

Friday night football games are a staple of any high school experience. In the days before the game, the school goes berserk screaming chants about how we are going to "Bring ´em down, way down..." The incredible thing is that this experience repeats itself every week for 10 weeks out of the year (not including the playoffs). During this time, everybody can recite the stats of the star quarterback or running back. They know who is injured and who is going to have the breakout game that could land them that coveted college scholarship. It all culminates on Game Day. The people who revel in this the most are the Seniors. Well, that is, every Senior, but myself.

In order to understand me a bit better, you must realize that I come from the Deep South (also known as Dallas). The Deep South treats Friday night football games as a religion. There have been many books published on the phenomenon of these games. They capture the imagination of the entire town. The only other place that treats Friday night football games like the Deep South is in Smalltown, USA. When my parents moved to the Dayton area last year, we moved smack into the heart of Smalltown - also known as Springboro, Ohio. It epitomizes everything that a small town should be. It has a quaint, little barbershop where everyone knows your name. It has the little Post Office. When we first moved in, they said, "Oh, you guys are the ones who moved in to the Nelson´s house. Here´s your mail." The incredible thing is that we did not even have to tell them where we lived! When I go to the local bank, they tell me to say "Hi" to Bailey, the family dog. My mom once went to the drive-thru lane at the bank after picking our dog up at the local vet and the teller started talking to our dog through the speakers. Needless to say, Bailey listened quite attentively to the speaker and quickly obtained the teller´s undying affection. The other amazing thing about Springboro is the attendance of the adults of the city at Panther home football games.

Due to the high attendance, getting to the football game is a logistical nightmare. In order to enter the brand new multi-purpose stadium, you must drive down a two-lane stretch of State Route 741, which is the sole access point to the stadium. Some members of Springboro´s police department drew the hopeless task of directing the steel stampede. The traffic slows to a standstill about a mile and a half from the stadium. Having been stuck in traffic last year, I realized that it makes a lot of sense to carpool to these games. So, I now ride to the game with one of my friends. We take the back roads to the stadium, so we could approach from the other (hopefully, less crowded) direction. As we approached the new stadium, I see the gargantuan banks of lights standing high above the stadium. The lights are quite an impressive sight - they dwarf the surrounding foliage of trees and serve as a sharp contrast to the quickly darkening sky. At this point, I realize that this game will be different from all of the other games that I have attended. The rapidly concluding summer had changed many things.

After paying the admission price, my friend and I take our seats. The rest of the crowd continues to stream in to the stadium. I scrutinize every soul that enters with cold, hardened eyes hidden behind my dark sunglasses. I firmly believe that everyone in the city of Springboro attends Panther home football games. After all, there is nothing to do after six o´clock at night. Every restaurant and business shuts down for the game (except for Burger King and Kroger´s). Okay, maybe that is an exaggeration, but it sure does not seem like one. Anyway, Springboro´s denizens decide to get caught up in the craze of high school football. Springboro Junior High is also well represented with students who idolize the "heroes" of the older Springboro squad. High school Freshmen and Sophomores are in attendance as well. They want to appear like they can "fit" in with all of the "cool" Seniors. I know that when I was a Freshman, I attended most school football games. Looking around, I see that the Juniors are the least represented group. It is probably related to the fact that they are at the height of their teenage angst and are a bit anti-social for a short period of time. Almost out of obligation or pure excitement, the Seniors are almost all in attendance. At some subconscious level, they must realize that this is the end. However, from my cynical vantage point, I do not think they consciously realize it. They all act immaturely and like dweebs. But, maybe this is proof that they do indeed realize that this is the end. They realize that this is their last chance to act like teenagers. Next year, most of them will be attending college.

I am in limbo this year because I am technically a Senior, but I do not attend any classes at the high school. I now split my time between the University of Dayton and Sinclair Community College. I have been able to glimpse into the other side. I can see how different everything is when we leave the protective enclosure of high school. Most of the friendships that I made as a Junior never had time to cement into "real" friendships. I was busy with work, school, and adjusting to new surroundings. My efforts were not concentrated on making friends. Do not get me wrong, I was not a recluse or hermit, but I was not Mr. Popularity. I became friendly with the people that I had in my classes. That only makes sense when you stop and think about it. We make friends with the people that we are surrounded with either by choice or by our desire for companionship.

Due to some mismatches in the classes I took in Dallas and the classes offered at Springboro, I took a lot of Senior level courses last year. So, the people that I knew and were surrounded by were Seniors. I was not necessarily "accepted" as a Senior, but I was not exactly a Junior either. It was quite a unique experience, and I am not sure that I would recommend it to anyone else. However, some of the Seniors´ bad habits rubbed off on me. By the end of last year, none of the Seniors cared about school. While I was not that bad, I was slowly disassociating myself from everyone else (including my "true" classmates). This brings me back to the football game. Last year, when I went to a game, I felt like I was a part of something. Now, when I attend the games, I feel like a man among little boys. I attribute last year´s feeling to my naïveté.

Springboro has a tradition of making the high school students stand during all varsity games. It leads to a loud and rowdy atmosphere. This atmosphere is further enhanced by the fact that most of the students in attendance are high and/or drunk. I am always amazed that some kids do not kill themselves on their way home. Most of the Seniors do not attend away games for this very reason - they do not trust themselves to drive any distance greater than three miles. All of this makes a sober person like me feel even more distant. Everyone is talking and gabbing about what happened in the three hours since they last saw each other. Hardly anyone realizes that a football game is underway one hundred feet in front of them. No one even cares. Maybe that is my problem. I am a sports nut and I hate to be distracted when I am watching a big game. Out of the 300 students present, only four or five (including myself) can tell you the score. There is a delayed reaction when Springboro scores. When our running back breaks away for a touchdown, the people watching the game get up and start yelling and screaming. That sets off a chain reaction and everyone else who is off in their own little world starts cheering, not sure of what has just occurred but knowing that something has happened. This angers me a little bit. I am not sure why.

One of the biggest assets to a football team is the crowd. In some football stadiums, there is even a plaque celebrating the importance of the "12th" man. Most of the fans get caught in a frenzy and, for a brief time, they lose their individuality. For some reason, this plague has passed over me. I feel alone standing on the bleachers next to the throng. This scenario reminds me of the classic movie 12 Angry Men. Eleven of the men are caught in a frenzy and are determined to form a quick judgement regarding a young man. They do not pause to take a step back or become objective concerning the case. In the movie, one lone juror stands out. He refuses to go along with the ideas of the headless mob. He feels that he has to make them stop and think about what is going on around them. In the end, the case reveals things about each man. Afterwards, they see themselves in an entirely different light. I ponder all of this before the game has even reached halftime.

A mass exodus to the concession stand or the bathroom occurs at halftime. One would think that this would be the perfect time to carouse with your friends, but these fans fail to take advantage of the scenario. They have an entire twenty minutes to gab. Some people stay behind and watch the marching band do their little jig. They give the marching band more attention then they ever give their football team. For one moment, the remaining crowd stands and cheers the mighty Springboro High School Marching Band. I just shake my head when they exhibit this show of solidarity for the Marching Band. What has the marching band done? All they do is play their pithy little instruments. Most of them cannot even play that well, but I admit they do try. It angers me to see people who are physically sacrificing their bodies for the school, overshadowed by geeks in diabolical attire that Dennis Rodman would never wear. Yet, I realize that people in the marching band are infinitely smarter than the football players. Who in their right minds would sacrifice themselves for a mere game? I just wonder how the football team would execute if they had a screaming crowd like that supporting them.

Tired from all that talking or bored from the marching band´s lackluster performance, the stragglers head to the brand new concession stand where they plop down $4 for a small Coca-Cola and $3 for a Snickers bar. If they really feel like splurging, they can head over to the Springboro Athletic Booster´s kiosk where they can pick up authentic Panthers jerseys, hats, and even blue and white boxer shorts. I do not think that I can blame the mindless beings that buy these ridiculously priced items. I blame the greedy school. I´m sorry, I take that back. I do blame the mindless zombies who pay for this stuff. If they did not buy it, the school would never offer it because there would be no market for the goods. As any economist knows, if there is no desire for a product in a free market economy, the product will never survive. I guess this is the harsh reality that we must face. Everywhere we go we are exploited and used.

Those words sum up the football team. They are exploited and used to a degree that teenagers should never have to endure. They live and die by their fleeting success. If they lose the big game by dropping a sure touchdown, no one will talk to them for weeks. I have even heard rumors that some teachers have failed these losers based on nothing other than their lackluster performance the Friday before. If a player wins the game by returning an interception for the touchdown that breaks the game open, he is everyone´s hero. After the game, people will come up to him and congratulate him on the team´s success. The coach also puts a lot of pressure on the players. He blows a lot of hot air about how the city will demand a refund for the new stadium if they do not win this first game. Imagine what a burden that must be to feel like they have to win or they will lose their shining new stadium. The even more amazing thing about this is that these kids actually believe this ranting from a "wanna-be" jock. He is living vicariously through these innocent teenagers. He wants to place them on a lofty pedestal for which they are unsuited.

As the people return to their seats for the remainder of the game, I realize that there is a difference in the demeanor between high school kids and college students. While I am sure that there are some people at a U.D. football game who are drunk or high, the majority of the college students have outgrown these petty behaviors. It is quite possible that the values and morals that their parents have tried to instill in them over the years have finally
"kicked in." I guess that is the difference, the majority of the students have grown up a bit. The physical difference between high school students and college students is minimal, but the psychological difference between the two is astonishing.

Yet, as these students pass through college, they will once again be changed by the responsibilities of the real world. This change is only apparent when these law-abiding taxpayers attend Friday night football games. The game is the signal of the beginning of the weekend. Most people do not have to work on the weekends. They can come home from their forty-hour week and just let it all hang loose. At these games, nobody really cares who you are. You can be the factory worker, the mid-level company grunt, or the president of some multi-million dollar company. Everyone is united in their will to see the team win. The fans take their weekly frustrations into the game, and let it all out in a matter of hours. They yell and scream at everyone: the players, the opposing players, the referees, and even the other fans. I imagine that this is why so many adults show up at football games. They are there to let off that repressed steam. This way, they can approach the week ahead refreshed and free of stress. I guess Friday night football serves that purpose quite well. Crime in Springboro is almost non-existent on weekends. I guess the criminals are too tired to rob the old ladies after they cheered like madmen for the Panthers.

As all things must end, so must the football game. Looking back at the stadium as I get into my friend´s car, I marvel at how much has changed (the stadium, the people) and yet how much has stayed the same (the comments, the attitudes). In a way, I realize that I have changed more than anything else. Regardless of whether our team won, no one will remember in a few hours. They will all head back to their respective homes unchanged by the experience. I do not think that I emerged unscathed from this game. Something made me see the world from a different perspective. I will now have to live with this altered view of reality for the rest of my life. As we drive away and I stare in the rear view mirror, I feel my innocence fading away as quickly as the stadium blends into the night.

Last Modified Friday, 20-Aug-2010 02:50:17 EDT These pages were made by Justin R. Erenkrantz unless otherwise stated. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. These pages will look best in an XHTML 1.0 compliant browser.

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