October 2, 2007

Request for high school football insights

Last week, I was trying to explain American high school football to three incredulous English intellectuals, and this vast but curious phenomenon struck me as a good topic to give the Sailer Treatment to in an article. So, I'm appealing to you all for interesting ideas about high school football -- please comment or email me.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer


David Duff said...

Did your English friends retaliate by explaining cricket?

"You have two sides, one out in the field and one in. Each man that's in the side that's in goes out, and when he's out he comes in and the next man goes in until he's out. When they are all out, the side that's out comes in and the side that's been in goes out and tries to get those coming in, out. Sometimes you get men still in and not out.

When a man goes out to go in, the men who are out try to get him out, and when he is out he goes in and the next man in goes out and goes in. There are two men called umpires who stay out all the time and they decide when the men who are in are out. When both sides have been in and all the men have been out, and both sides have been out twice after all the men have been in, including those who are not out, that is the end of the game."

Got it?

beowulf said...

Three Words---
Friday Night Lights. Just a damn good TV show, if you grew up in the suburbs, its amazing to see how big a deal high school football is in small towns with nothing else going on.

NBC has put the entire first season (and the pilot for the second) online. Since time is money, you can just read the wiki page. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Friday_Night_Lights_(TV_series)

When Steve once analogized foreign policy types who like to meddle with football boosters who exercise their will to power by bribing college prospects, I thought about this character:

* Buddy Garrity (Brad Leland) - Owner of a popular Dillon car dealership and father of Lyla Garrity. With his powerful influence in the town, Buddy always tries to be involved with the Dillon Panthers football team, doing whatever he can to bring talent to the Panthers and resolve any problems with the players or their families...

Anonymous said...

High School football is our tribal rite. The rest of our society is anomic and anti-tribal. On Friday nights we can go watch our boys "fight" their boys (and nobody gets killed - at least, not usually)!

Anonymous said...

Any good film documenturaies on the subject they can easily view?

Just tell em' the names of some powerhouse high schools, and give them the schedule and have them attend a game in person?

John Derbyshire wrote a column a few years back about attending an Alabama game and was clearly "blown away" by it. In my opinion, going to a good rivalry game in person is the best way to describe it..............

Football is wondeful. It has strategy, grace, it channels human violence in power in a peaceful way, its a subject of coffe-table conversation, and is the most entertaining sport ever invented in my opinion.

Carrick said...

Wouldn't it be more interesting for you to write a piece explaining cricket to incredulous Americans? I take it you play, of course.

Anonymous said...

My nephew played football in high school and it had a trasformative effect on him. He is a big kid, sort of quiet, slow and gentle and was always teased about his weight. His family tagged him as unmotivated and immature. His parents planned to send him to the local junior college since they figured he would not thrive living away at univerity. His father told him that he he wasn't tough enough to play football, and reiterated that continually.
Surprising everyone my nephew went out for the team, succeeding and loving it. He gained large measures of self-respect and the respect of others, fell in with the football team clique and made good friends. For a class assignment he wrote a paper about how football had changed him and how he had showed his dad that he an mistunderestimated his son. (If you wish I will get you a copy of the letter; if I can get my nephew's permission,) He finished high school as a starting tackle, much more confident, stronger and better conditioned that when he started. Additionally surprising his pareents he applied to and was accepted by several well respected universities. He is well into his first semester and doing very well.

Anonymous said...

At 135 pounds I was too small for HS football, but I could swim so I played water polo. Almost as rough but not as many injuries as football. I learned a lot about teamwork, sportsmanship, perservering under adversity. I am encouraging my son to play lots of team sports.

Christopher said...

Miles [my imaginary English friend for purposes of explaining football here], what you must understand is how very American football is, both as a game, and, with regard to what we call high school, as a teenage phenomenon.

As a game, first observe the emphasis on taking the other guy's land, gaining yardage we call it. It's very warlike in that fundamental. Like rugby only more so. Whether by pushing, running over, jumping over, or via aerial attack (paratroopers perhaps), the idea is to move your team further and further into the enemy's territory and make it your own. Second, the field itself: a lovely little grid. None of this fake nature roundish Australian rules pitch or cricket pitch or overly wide Football pitch. America's a big country, but we are going to control it, lay some math down onto it, flatten it where necessary, and play. Again with the math, we like to measure things; we don't like to word our way to success. Real success has a number: acres, children, head of cattle, barrels of oil, cards, hell, wives where some of us can get away with it! And that number, those numbers, trump all class distinctions. We admire virtue, and so what if someone has a lot of money, he can still be a jerk. But still, we like to face reality. We don't have a nobility; we don't grovel before a poorer noble, or even a greater noble. We buy, we sell, we measure out and measure in. No shame in losing if you gave it your all, but don't stand on your one yard line with your back to the wall and tell me you're better than me because of style. And another thing. This is a long game. We break up all the plays. We stop and measure all the time. It's inexorable. It's constant. Style rarely counts. We make a virtue of grinding things out where necessary. But of course emotion plays a part. Basically we are beating each other up. One of our big coaches said dancing is a contact sport, but football is a hitting sport. So it's a fight. Don't expect the faster, smarter, better trained team to win if they can't give and take pounding. Now, note here for a moment a little American contradiction. Or at least something that make me wonder. The equipment. The Aussies brag about their lack of padding and helmets. My dad still talks about a hurling match he saw where some guys teeth got knocked out --batted out really. And in Rugby there's not much padding or helmets. We, on the other hand, don't hesitate to use the latest designs from NASA, the latest in material science from Stanford and MIT, and a whole truckload of money to get the best in helmets and padding. No one seems to notice how the better the protective equipment, the more daring the hitting becomes. Now, I didn't play, so maybe I'm speaking out of school, but it just seems an odd American blind spot to try to tech-away the injuries and the potential for injury, rather than adjust the rules or try to stay traditional. Alright, so that's a start on the game as America thing. Shall I go on about it's importance to teenage culture, or the teenage subculture?

Zach said...

Let's see:

1. The myth of high school football as the way to success for black students. Most don't understand the incredible obstacles and odds against playing in the NFL and even if one starts in the NFL how short the average career is. Telling kids that football is a good way to get rich is a total lie.

2. The Catholic connection. Catholic schools, unlike public schools can recruit city or county wide and offer scholarships for good athletes. This combination allows them to cherry-pick some of the top talent in the country. A lot of the coaches then told their best players to go to Notre Dame, which is why it was such a powerhouse.

3. High school football in relation to red state/ blue state, north/south, American vs. immigrant, etc. What are the markers? What can one infer about a community that lives and dies by its hs football team?

4. In college football, schools like Nebraska, Oklahoma etc are followed by the entire state. This is primarily because they don't have their own professional teams to follow. Do HS teams flourish in the same evironment? Do teams in San Francisco or LA or other metro areas not do as well because there is more competition for entertainment or perhaps more options for students or less of a sense of community/tradition.

Anonymous said...


"the better the protective equipment, the more daring the hitting becomes"

Thanks for bringing this point up. It's like asking, who takes the bigger pounding?: the bare-knuckled boxer or the gloved boxer?

Cato said...

It's the closest thing American society has to a manhood ritual for late-adolescent boys. Those who don't play (I didn't) are never able to say so without a hint of embarrassment, even if they excel at other sports. Those who do enjoy a one-or-two grade boost in social status throughout high school, and the opportunity to bore everyone else by recounting their exploits for the next forty years.

James Kabala said...

It is very much a "red state" thing, I think. At my own high school in New England, football games were well-attended, but it was not an event people lived and died over. Cato's statement that "[t]hose who don't play (I didn't) are never able to say so without a hint of embarrassment, even if they excel at other sports" was not true; the most prestigious sport was whichever one was having the best season, which was (Quelle horror!) soccer when I was a senior but was football, basketball, or baseball in other years. The stereotypical social dominance of cheerleaders was also a myth in my experience. In fact, although my school actually had a championship cheerleading squad, being on the squad brought little, if any, social prestige. The idea of the quarterback and the captain of the cheerleading squad as king and queen of the social scene was long-gone by my time. I graduated in 1998, by the way.

* Oh, how I hate that term and its twin "blue state," but as Rumsfeld might say, you have to go with the terminology you have.

Let's! said...

What's the HS football hero's line in "Idiocracy" to the babes surrounding him? Something like "I'm gonna (expletive) all y'all!" If you're a 17-year-old European guy, what do you do to get that kind of pimp juice?

Anonymous said...

Rutgers? Ann Arbor Michigan? Bezerkely? Corvalis? Seattle? Wisconsin? New York? Boston/New England? LA?

All pretty "blue" and often live/die with the local college and/or professional team.

Football is addictive. There is so much strategy, pauses so fans can predict the next action, looks great on TV, and great complexity which leads to specialization and lots and lots of teamwork.

HS Football in particular lets lots of different type guys play. It has the biggest team size (beating Baseball, Basketball, Water Polo, etc) and to be successful EVERYONE must play as a team. It's not enough (mostly) to have just one dominant player.

Football does teach one very useful thing: teamwork, which is the fundamental for most societal efforts.

ERM said...

Nothing extremely interesting to add, but I will say that football was not such a big deal in my small town with nothing else going on, even though the town was in W. Pennsylvania -- the absolute cradle of American football, no matter what you hear from southerners. A moderately big deal, mind, but not a huge one. We had quite a good, though not large stadium, with artificial surface and the games were broadcast on the local radio. But interest was badly diminished by perpetual losing seasons. The reason was that our small town (12,000) was attached to the high school interscholastic division that included Erie, and while our high school was larger than most of the other small town high schools in the area, it was much smaller than the large, urban high schools of Erie (including, as per the above remark, a large Catholic HS). We were just big enough to class as AAAA and play those (racially integrated) behemoths, but not big enough to compete. It was the same problem with basketball. On the other hand, we were strong contenders perpetually in sports where the school size differential/racial makeup of the school was less critical: tennis, wrestling (probably the most respected sport in town; WPA is also big wrestling territory), x-country, swimming/diving -- sports where raw "athleticism" are somewhat less important and fairly fit white hillbillies can compete well. I suspect that there is some extra-cultural correlation between the popularity of football in a place, and the racial balance similarity of one's competitors.

ERM said...

Also, I agree with James Kabala re: cheerleaders. In my experience, the best looking and more popular girls in school were the athletic types who played tennis or basketball or ran. The cheerleading squad were rather homely and enjoyed absolutely no added social prestige. I suspect that the rise of women's sports has, quite happily, badly dented cheerleading as a social institution everywhere, but that's a different story.

(BTW, my experience is recent: graduted HS in '00)

guest007 said...

A few references to look up"

1. The sports illustrated story about six man football in the western states. It allows towns that have one stop light to still have a football team. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Six-man_football and surprisingly a list of six man football stadiums in Texas http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Six-man_football_stadiums_in_Texas.

Also see the story in ESPN.com written from a New England female point of view. http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=buckheit/061010
She did not understand it.

Anonymous said...

I think that despite what is seen at the NFL or Division 1 college level, there is a phenomenom at the high school level that is interesting. In Texas where I live, the middle class, mostly white surburban schools compete or even dominate in football (Southlake Carroll near Dallas has won 4 of the last 5 state championships in the largest classification).

Very few kids from these schools are ever recruited to play college football, yet year after year, these teams win versus teams with tons of blue-chip recruits. What are the reasons for this? Do the suburban teams have better teamwork, skills, or work ethic? Or is there a barrier in the recruiting process that doesn't allow these kids to play for major college programs?

Svigor said...

Telling kids that football is a good way to get rich is a total lie.

Oh, I dunno. It's all relative. A significant portion of black millionaires are in the entertainment industry, and risking a wild guess, I'd say most of them are in pro sports.

In other words, it's a relatively good way for blacks to get rich.

James Kabala said...

Anonymous: Oh, I agree that football is extremely popular everywhere. (I think that despite the Patriots' recent dominance, the Red Sox are still bigger around here, but the Patriots have definitely surpassed the Celtics and Bruins). But I was speaking specifically about high school football, and that's only moderately popular in New England.

Erm: I think you are right that women's sports was the leading cause of the demise of cheerleading. Indeed, cheerleaders I knew would often "defend" cheerleading by arguing that it was actually a sport, and cheerleading seemed to be oriented more around winning competitions than in actually leading cheers for the football or basketball teams.

Anonymous said...

Me: Of course, it does help to put the lie to the idea that the modern University is about education - obviously it isn't - it's all about the self-glorification of the educrats.

Just as I clicked to post, it dawned on me that you can't have preferential treatment for children of "disadvantaged socio-economic status" if you aren't charging tuition in the first place [the poor kids being at no greater disadvantage than the rich kids when it comes to partaking of a free education].

So there goes your biggest justification for quotas.

Plus it's kinda tough to maintain that elitist atmosphere if you're giving the thing away for free.

It took me years [really decades] to realize that people will pay more for an inferior product - big $$$s for a shabby apartment, big $$$s for a tasteless meal in a restaurant, big $$$s for a membership in a run-down old club - if only the threshold presented by the pricetag is enough to discourage the riff-raff, and maintain some exclusivity to the thing.

Anonymous said...

"Anonymous said...

"the better the protective equipment, the more daring the hitting becomes"

Thanks for bringing this point up. It's like asking, who takes the bigger pounding?: the bare-knuckled boxer or the gloved boxer?"

I've played both football (guard and defensive tackle) and rugby (loose-head prop). Football is definitely far more dangerous. The first is that there is no blocking in rugby and the only time you will get hit is when you are carrying the ball or going into a ruck or maul. Since you are expecting to get hit, injuries are rare. In football, in contrast, most injuries occur because someone gets blind-sided and didn't see the blocker comming.

The second major reason why football is more dangerous is the protective equipment. A hard helmet with a facemask and shoulder pads allow one to use one's body as a ram, delivering a blow with the momentum of the entire body when blocking or tackeling. Coaches emphasise this by speaking of "hitting" or "delivering a blow." In rugby, tackles are more wrapping up your opponent and dragging him to the ground. Furthermore, shoulder charges with no attempt to wrap and tackles above the shoulders are illegal. If you tried to execute a football "hit" or "spear someone with your helmet," as is done in football, you would either break your neck, nose, collarbone, or separate your shoulder.

Consequently, you see many more concussions and other head and neck injuries in football, as well as many more serious orthopaedic injuries. I would imagine that over time, all the jarring from getting hit with the full momentem of very large men moving quickly would also be bad for the internal organs. The above reasons, along with the use of steriods and other performance enhancing drugs, probably an important causal factor why the average age of death for someone who has played in the NFL is only 49 versus 75 for men in the general population.
-Philly Guy

Danny said...

I'm not American and have never played football so maybe I'm getting this wrong: American Football seems to have a bit of a corporate ethos. Football resembles not so much a battle, which is far too chaotic, but the running of a corporation, in which the progress of the company can be measured very accurately. The most creative position on the field - the quarterback - is also the one where one must express leadership and organization skills - which is unlike other sports. Corporate leaders may compare themselves to quarterbacks, but not so much to point guards or pitchers.

Also, I understand that Baseball has teams that are considered (each in their own way) "lovable losers": the Redsox and the the Cubs. Does football have any such teams? [If not this tends to support my theory]

Jack said...

I grew up in Southeast PA, big football region, but my school itself was small so our team wasn't great. As for women's sports ruining cheerleading, I kind of agree too. I graudated in 1995, and hands down the sexiest girls in class played field hockey or ran track. Still, however, the cheerleaders were popular and fairly attractive in general. In my school, the more studious hot girls tended to do sports and the party types cheerleading. Those plaid field hockey skirts...damn.