Growing up in the very small town of Pinetop, AZ, I had a very skewed idea of how communities connect with their local high school's sports teams. With a population of just over 2000 in the late 1980s, Friday nights in the fall was more than just the start of the weekend. It was game night! Home football games created a place where the entire community came together. Standing room only for rival games. People that didn't even have a child attending the school (even ever) could be found in a seat that they might have actually sat in for years. It was just a given that was where to be between August and November on a Friday night.
It wasn't until my oldest son stepped into his first freshman football game a couple of years ago, how different "big city football" can be. Schools with more students than the entire town that I grew up in! I always heard of how competitive it can be for a player to even get playing time or how parents would drive their child all the way across the valley just so they could play on that schools teams. Freshman and JV games are usually just the parents of players with maybe a few students. But I assumed that these schools would be packed on a Friday night with students, parents, faculty and community.
Man was I mistaken! And it seems to be getting worse.
Earlier this season, I attended the Gilbert at Sunrise Mountain game. We pulled in the parking lot and it was packed! People filling in through the gates. It was like a small town game and I was excited! It was an extremely high scoring and fast paced game. The home crowd was very much into it and the referees even had to warn the student section a couple of times for excessive behavior. This was the high school football that I had been waiting to see for years!
Then came halftime and I found out why there were so many people there. Sunrise Mountain was inducting a few people into their Hall of Fame. There were a thousand little children doing a performance for the event, so the vast majority of the people in the home bleachers were the parents of these children. Sadly, once the halftime festivities finished up, the place emptied, leaving the only a few parents and faculty to cheer on their home team.
A couple weeks later, Campo Verde visited Gilbert. These schools have been intertwined, along with Highland, since they were built. Because of school boundaries and the massive growth of the Town of Gilbert, students that attend these schools could have been best friends with a kid on the opposing sideline during Jr High or Elementary school. This would make you think that the stakes would be even higher... bragging rights. I was extremely disappointment and surprised with how few people were in attendance.
Maybe I'm still just a naive, and maybe its always been this way in the Phoenix Metro area schools and that unless the game is going to be on national TV, the attendance is always this low. It is pretty sad to see. These kids leave everything on the field every game and for the most part, don't expect anything but a high five and a hug from mom and dad at the end. Most will only play for the 3-4 years they attend high school and then move on to what they are going to do for the rest of their lives. These 3-4 years will become a memory (hopefully a good one) of friends and family that was a building block of what they will become as adults. The least we as parents and community can do is come out and support them in these critical times in their lives.
So as we close out the 2018 regular Arizona High School season, there is no better time than now to come out and support your local teams. Even if only to have a memory of your own... "Remember when that happened?!? I was there!!"