Adventures in Texas continue. There has been a lot of work and even more fun (the main event I’ve been working on happened on Thursday, so prep and follow up is keeping me busy in amongst the fun). One exceedingly excellent element of fun was a night living the suburban American dream. A night engaged in a truly all-American activity. An evening of almost incomprehensible entertainment. My very, very first High School Football game.
Most of my reference points for this experience were drawn from American TV shows (any Friends episode featuring football and that Glee episode when Kurt did the Single Ladies dance for a goal kick) and High School movies (turns out the school’s team shares its name and colours with that of High School Musical’s Wildcats). However, it turned out that the football was very much the secondary entertainment for our friends and hosts – they were all about the school band. It turns out that they, and Shannon – our Texan connection – are band geeks. Full on, uniform wearing, flag twirling, drum hitting and clarinet playing band geeks. Fabulous! [Of course everyone knows the main cultural reference point for high school band. "one time, at band camp..."]
En route to the game, struggling to find anyone who could explain the rules of football to me, I asked whether it was anything like Quidditch. The car, en masse, laughed at me – yet, after an hour in the stadium it was clear that actually, it wasn’t that far fetched a question.
- For a start, like Hogwarts’ favourite sport, football contains myriad terms that make absolutely no sense to the outsider. Quaffles and quarterbacks; bludgers and buttonhooks; snitches and scrimmages…I could go on for quite a while.
- The goal pole thingys are really quite similar. Admittedly, football doesn’t involve hoops, but they look more Quidditch-y than soccer goals.
- There are people wearing peculiar clothing. Various members of the band wore tartan sashes (I didn’t ask) or sequinned ones, over their black uniforms that were distinctly robe-like. The drill team wore short white cowboy boots and sequinned cowboy hats (plus clothes in between, obviously). Even the crowd was bedecked in the school colours of red, black and white.
- Then, there was the coordinated movement – not so much on the pitch, but before, during and after the sport. The drill team’s display (I have learnt the important difference between drill team and cheerleaders) was as bewitching as a Veela’s dance – especially as it was special ‘Daddy-Daughter day’ and their fathers danced with them. At one point, an entire section of the crowd performed some routine they’d been working on for some time. It was weirdly impressive.
But, like I said, it turned out that we were not there for the football, but for the half-time show incorporating the two teams’ marching bands. I had not realised that band was such a big thing – apparently these shows can cost tens of thousands of dollars! The students have to be at school for practice at 6am every weekday; then there are contests on weekends; then there’s extra rehearsals…it even costs parents extra to have their child in the band. It’s a far cry from my school’s orchestra, that’s for sure! [But, as they say, everything's bigger in Texas.]
Every team’s band has a routine that they’ve worked on all summer, ready for the autumn football season. There are sectional, regional, state and national competitions (terminology that is familiar to those who have watched Glee – what works for glee clubs also appears to work for marching bands). Members rise up the ranks, only achieving significant positions when deemed good enough. The musical standard is exceptionally high, but so is the requirement for being able to move in a coordinated fashion. It was all I could do as a student to play my clarinet moderately well, while seated on a wooden chair – had marching and dancing been added into the mix, all clarinet playing ability would have vanished!
Oh, and the routines have themes! The opposing team on Friday night did one involving gondolas and Venetian canals (no, I have no idea either). ‘Our’ team, on the other hand, had a rather wonderful Superheroes number – complete with Wonderwoman themed flag wavers (I forget their correct name).
Whenever I travel, I’m on the look out for an authentic local experience, and this was most definitely that. It was awesome, despite not knowing what was going on for most of the time, because everyone around us was so into it and it was clearly such a huge element of local life. But I was surprised at how quickly I found myself adhering to the stereotypes I’d witnessed over and over again on TV and in movies. On one trip back from the concession stand, our way up the stands was blocked by a gaggle of drill team members, who (thanks to the commentary) I knew to be the captains of the squad. All of a sudden, despite being 15 years their senior, I felt unable to untie my tongue and ask them to move aside. Which was utterly ridiculous – especially as when one of the young men chatting with them spotted us, he immediately moved the group to the side of the stairs and the squad captain turned to me and uttered the words: “I’m so sorry ma’am, let me get everyone out of your way.”
It was a ridiculous response! I am not a teenager in High School. I’m not even American. For me, the American dream is just that – a dream. But sometimes it’s nice to pretend that’s not the case for a few hours.