High School Football Night in Haughton (and in America)

Counting tomorrow night’s game against Byrd, Haughton’s football team would have lived an entertaining and interesting past four weeks.

But you could say the same all over District 5A. Or 4A. Or as many A’s as you can come up with.

Like the “A” in America. High school football might be different here and there, but the feelings, the backstories, are all common as clay.

There’s so much more to high school football — any amateur sport — than meets the eye. We’re asking teens to do really difficult things. In front of passionate people.

It’s very hard to make it look easy.

We’ll take this snapshot of Haughton. Three weeks ago, the Bucs lost to 2A’s best team, Many, at Many, which is a lot like playing — I don’t know, at Haughton?, maybe? — except the roles were reversed. Haughton was the hunted, not the hunter. Tough team and tough place to play.

And the Bucs aren’t likely ever to forget it. That’s a good thing.

Two weeks ago it was the Bro Bowl, an added layer to what was already going to be a very competitive district opener. Younger brother Coy Brotherton and his Parkway team — currently ranked No. 1 in the SBJ poll — beat older brother Jason Brotherton and Haughton in an “instant classic.” Field goal at the end. 17-14. That kind of deal. The Panthers didn’t lead until there were two seconds left in the game.

“Sure, you want to win every game,” Jason said, “and it hurts when you don’t, and people don’t believe this, but I’ve done it long enough that now, it’s gotten to the point where as soon as it’s over, when it’s a game like that one, I don’t think ‘win’ or ‘loss’ as much as I think, ‘Man, what a great high school football game.’ Huge crowd. Rivalry. Both teams played well. Just a great high school football game.”

Sometimes, after a game like that one, the next-best thing to playing and winning is playing and losing.

Then last week … Homecoming. A coach for 25 years, Brotherton knows Homecoming week with all its extracurricular activity is a fun week for student-athletes, as it should be — but a Worry Week for coaches.

“I’d be lying if I said we focused only on Southwood this week,” he said on the eve of the Southwood game. Although the Cowboys’ September wins have since been forfeited, Brotherton said the on-field victories showed him the Cowboys had “gotten over that hump” of “knowing how to win. I told our kids, ‘They’re gonna beat somebody in our district; don’t let it be us.’”

It wasn’t. But it was 10-6 at the half before the Bucs pulled away, 37-24.

The Thursday night of Homecoming, Brotherton actually took the night off as coach and was instead dad to daughter Kinsley, who won the school beauty pageant last year and so was in the parade in a convertible Lexus, her dad at the wheel — “Not my car; I’m a high school football coach, remember?” Brotherton said — in that evening’s Homecoming parade. Kinsley was Lady of the Locket, and Brotherton was just glad last year’s pageant was over.

“Those things will wear you out,” dad Brotherton said.

Now this week, C.E. Byrd. Made it to the quarters last year. For so long, the standard bearer in 5A. Lurking Byrd, coming off its only loss of the season.

“You never,” Brotherton said, “get a week off in this district.”

Which is sort of the point of all this. A team’s base remains the same as the season goes along, but the playbook keeps growing with new wrinkles. It’s semi-gigantic by now. And there’s always The Next Game.

But high school football is just two-and-a-half hours in a day filled with other stuff.

The coach is still a dad and a teacher. The center is a math student. The corner has a cousin playing on the other team. The linebacker is having girlfriend woes. The slot receiver is thinking about a term paper and his ACT test tomorrow. Sometimes a coach is worried whether or not one of his players is going to have a ride home after practice.

“Part of (coaching) that’s frustrating is when your team might struggle and you hear some stuff, but not everyone knows what some of these kids might have going on,” Brotherton said. “Sometimes a kid missing a block might not be that big of a deal to him right then in his life.”

It’s a perspective thing.

Hopefully, teams are safe places, happy places. And mostly they are. While high school football is a glorious slice of American life, it’s just one slice. 

So cheer for your team. Hard and loud and long. They deserve it. But remember that in high school, every team is America’s Team.

Contact Teddy at teddy@latech.edu