As much as the game, high school football’s atmosphere entertains

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COMMENTARY

High school football has a long-standing history in Oklahoma, whether it is the dominance of the eastern part of the state in the largest class (yes, I’m talking about you, Jenks and Tulsa Union) or the traditions of some of the smaller schools like Ada or Clinton. It doesn’t matter the size of your school — what does matter is that when it is Friday night, you want to be a part of that atmosphere regardless of the score.

When I was a senior at Putnam City High School, one of my favorite activities was attending high school football games and reporting on them as the sports editor of the school newspaper. Even after I finished college and had an opportunity to work as the sports editor of the (now-defunct) Eastern Oklahoma County Times, I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent covering football games.

My enjoyment of that coverage, however, isn’t exactly for the reasons you might think. What I enjoy is partly what happens on the field but also what goes on all around me. So, I recently returned to the old stomping grounds to take in a game involving my then-undefeated Pirates against the Lawton Wolverines. Mostly I was there to take in the sights and sounds that took place around me. There were plenty.

7:10 p.m.

The game kicked off – presumably – at 7, but I underestimated the time it would take me to find a parking spot and get settled into my seat after picking up a snack inside the stadium. OK, well, my “snack” may have been a chili-cheese hot dog and chili-cheese nachos. As I learned from the speeches given to the two people in front of me in line at the concession stand, there were “NO CHEESEBURGERS” at the main vending station. Apparently, anyone wanting the $5 burger and fries special had to go to a special location for those particular items. On a positive note, the prices seemed reasonable. I was able to get my dog, nachos and a water for less than a beer at a college football game or a pro basketball contest.

7:18 p.m.

I get settled into a seat and immediately realize I have made a mistake. Apparently, the semi-celebrity from Blue Öyster Cult – or just a modest imposter – was seated two rows in front of me with his cowbell proudly in hand. As I soon discovered, any big play – such as a tackle following a first-down run by Lawton – would be enough for him to furiously shake his hand to get optimal noise from his annoying device.

This man had a fever, and the only prescription was more cowbell. (Jeff Packham)

7:31 p.m.

A group of adult-talking adolescents decide to take a seat directly behind me. By adult-talking, you should be thinking about words that kids probably shouldn’t be using. Let’s just say they have apparently taken pride of their grasp of words that are best left to shady bars and adult locker rooms.

One of the teens keeps going on about how the group “should have never left” the previous spot. There must have been better-looking women at the previous spot. Then, the conversation turned toward how they could sit by the band by just claiming to be family. Sneaky.

7:37 p.m.

Looking at the field, the officiating crew is getting its share of grief from those around me in the stands. From their perspective, Lawton players were getting away with everything. My concern was that any one of the officials might croak at any moment. They looked like the cast from Cocoon. The referee reminded me of Boss Hogg — yes, that is a Dukes of Hazzard reference – with a bigger gut.

An official at the game bore a striking resemblance to the crooked commissioner of Hazzard County. (Jeff Packham)

7:50 p.m.

The score was 7-7 when I arrived. After a few series of mistakes and bad execution, Lawton took a 14-7 lead. Behind me, a voice coming from what I could only assume was a single-digit-aged boy kept yelling at someone named Lori. Or Laurie?

7:58 p.m.

While noticing that the guards for PC were the size of Division 1 college kickers, the Pirates gained some momentum by running a draw play on third down with 23 yards to go. Guess the Wolverines were looking for a pass.

8:02 p.m.

Putnam City tied the game with a fourth-down touchdown pass. Apparently I picked a good game to watch. The score was now 14-14.

8:06 p.m.

The Pirates intercepted a wayward pass from Lawton that awakened the surprisingly quiet cowbell guy. This time, he reached into his bucket of toys – yes, he had an actual white bucket – and pulled out a horn with an even more annoying sound. Yeah, one of those annoying ones that used to be reserved for international soccer matches.

8:12 p.m.

A random penny fell from the sky – or more likely some goofball’s hand – and landed a couple of feet to the side of me on the next row. If cowbell guy hadn’t gone on an excursion, he might have noticed the copper visitor make an unexpected appearance next to his mysterious white bucket. The penny remained in place throughout the rest of the game.

8:25 p.m.

At halftime, the Fall Sports Homecoming Queen was announced. A new set of teenagers sitting behind me – this time, three females – are talking about the winner. One of the girls supposedly had inside information as to who was going to win. As it turned out, that inside source may have also been Steve Harvey’s source.

8:51 p.m.

A bug landed on my back, which had a much stronger effect on one of the girls behind me. She apparently “hates bugs,” and it caused her to freak out as only a high school girl can do. I gently swiped the bug off my back.

9:01 p.m.

Mayor Mick Cornett – a Putnam City graduate – was announced as being in the press box. Cornett temporarily took over the PA duties. On the first play with him on the mike, Lawton intercepted the ball and returned it to the Pirates’ 10-yard line. Two plays later, the Wolverines scored a touchdown.

9:14 p.m.

The umpire managed to get in the way of a post pattern and plopped down on the ground. Not surprisingly, the pass fell incomplete. On a positive note, the umpire did get back up.

The Pirates eventually lost 27-21, but the night was not a complete loss. Life went on for everyone in the stands, including cowbell guy, bug girl, the kid looking for Lori and the teen boys who are probably still bouncing around looking for the right spot. It’s just another Friday night under the lights at an Oklahoma high school football game.