Like any high school girl, I was thrilled when I made the varsity cheerleading squad. Except for one small problem...
I'd have to learn about football.
Now that was, shall we say, a bit of a problem. I'd basically grown up in a gym. My granddaddy and my daddy had been basketball coaches. I cheered at basketball games all through grade school. We were Kentucky Wildcats fans, for heaven's sake. It was the early years of the Pitino era and poor Mr. Curry... Well, he was a nice man, they say. All of that didn't add up to much knowledge of, as my daddy would say, "those balls that don't bounce."
Over three years of cheering for the football team, I didn't learn much more than when to say the "First and Ten" cheer and when our team had scored. But, you know, I did make a lot of friends that I wouldn't have made otherwise. And it sure does build a team when you stand on the sidelines in the pouring rain or the blistering heat.
It would be many years before I learned much at all about football. Once I settled down with a beau for whom the sport was way more than a passing interest, I started to pay attention. Bob likes to say that he was just aiming for me to stop talking during important plays; he had no idea I'd become a devotee of the Nick Saban Process who never misses an episode of the Paul Finebaum Show. But, a couple of years ago, I was home visiting my parents and decided to go for a run on the track that surrounds my high school football field. As I went past the home bleachers, I realized how many special memories that field held.
Recently, my high school alma mater was devastated by the unexpected and tragic passing of a member of the football team. A rising Junior, Trey was the son of one of the football players for whom I cheered so many years ago -- one of those friends whom I got to know as I struggled to learn what a "down" was. I can't imagine what it must be like at the high school today as they prep for their first football game of the season while dealing with such an unimaginable loss.
In small towns all across America, the local high school sports teams are a social hub and a point of pride. That's why the brilliant TV show Friday Night Lights rang so true -- we all knew a die-hard lady like Matt's grandma and a super-fan like old Buddy Garrity, and hopefully even had a coach as inspiring as Coach Taylor. Tonight, even though I'm hours away from my hometown, I'll be thinking of my own Friday Night Lights days, and saying a little prayer for Trey's family and friends. And, of course, I'll still be cheering for my Rebels.