Kicking off the fall ritual

Aug. 22, 2014 @ 08:50 AM

Trip the switch on those Friday night lights – high school football returns to the area this weekend.

For players, of course, the season began weeks ago, when practice started. As they’ve drilled and run and studied playbooks through the heat of August, the goal of all that sweat and perseverance – and pain and fatigue – was to be ready hit the field tonight.

It should be an exciting opening to what promises to be another bracing season. The marquee game tonight is Hillside vs. New Bern – two teams that in the past three years have regularly opened the season against each other. They have finished the season against each other, too, twice in the past four years. Hillside beat New Bern in the 2010 state 4-A championship game, and New Bern reversed the result in the next year’s title match.

In other closely watched games this weekend, 2014 state 3-AA semifinalist Orange travels to Roxboro Person for their season opener tonight and reigning state 3-AA champion Southern starts its season Saturday against Landover (Md.) Capitol Christian Academy.

Classes start next week for students on traditional calendar in most area high schools, but tonight marks the beginning of the new year in many respects. Friday night is a milestone each week not just for the players, but for cheerleaders, marching bands, the folks who sell concessions and, of course, the fans.

And while many faithful parents, alumni, friends and curious spectators will pack bleachers throughout a city like Durham, the ritual of Friday night football still takes on even greater prominence in smaller towns and more rural areas. It’s the hottest ticket in some towns each week, and regulars know each other and enjoy the social camaraderie – and trash talk – as much as watching the game itself. The schedule – most games still are played with clockwork regularity on Friday nights – lends a comfortable rhythm to the week.

Football is fraught with problems, from growing worries about brain damage and other long-term health consequences in the pros to questions of scale and perspective at the major-college level.  The winds of change blowing through the sport may ultimately alter its posture and popularity, although it is hard to imagine the sport that arguably has long since supplanted baseball as the national pastime subsiding much in the public’s devotion.

Nonetheless, those concerns will be far from the minds of players, coaches and fans alike as we embark, as we have for generations, on the exciting ride that is the high school football season.