Answer: A Friday night activity well-suited for adults, children and their friends that has no age limits, no specific dress code, provides endless entertainment, tolerates all levels of noise and is relatively inexpensive. Question: What is a high school football game? It's Friday night and we load the van with an assembly of ages, friends, sweaters and cushions. We're off to see Ramona play Torrey Pines High School at the latter's field.
The sports scout in the family has been circling newspaper articles all week that detail Ramona's returning players and Torrey Pines' new coach, his son (the assistant coach), and his other son (the quarterback). It will be "one terrific game" notes the scout.
"There's the field," shouts the 10-year-old as we exit the freeway and head toward the bright lights in the sky. I wonder if sportswriters who travel to cover such night games rely on field lights to guide their final approach?
The ambulance precedes us to the gate and we know that the game has not yet begun. The game never starts before the ambulance is on site (which is reassuring to parents of football players). The last notes of the Star Spangled Banner sound as we approach the gate and pay our admission--$5 for adults, $4 for students with an ID, and $2 for children under 12. The program, a must, is a $2 donation.
Several factors determine on which side of the field we will sit. Some family members prefer the side with the best team colors, or worst season record, but, tonight, we choose the side nearest the entrance since we are tardy.
We position ourselves in a group of students, parents and grandparents. The excitement level is contagious. Knowing not a single person in the stands, we are soon endeared to our side's team. The younger children love the mascot, a student dressed in a particularly warm-looking bulldog outfit who is cheering the team on to victory.
"Orders to go," offers the 7-year-old. He'll make the trip to the snack shop manned by parents of the booster club of the home team. The offerings are suitable for any age group--popcorn, soda pop, hot dogs, nachos, candy and ice cream bars. There is no relation between what one feeds a family prior to a football game and what one's family can consume in the open-air frenzy. (Working parents should consider omitting the evening meal and proceed directly to the snack shop at the onset of the game.)
"May I use the binoculars?" asks the 16-year-old son. I note that while concentrating on the team's defense, he also positions the glasses on the distant side where the team's cheerleaders are cavorting.
The 10-year-old and her friends always position themselves directly in front of the cheerleaders. Tonight they are joined by a diminutive 3-year-old girl who is dressed in a cheerleading-like outfit and jumps in rhythm in the stands. "Stomp your feet and clap your hands," yell the cheerleaders to the crowd.
Our family waiter reappears with the night's feast and prides himself on announcing the final tab and presenting the correct change. "Hey, you didn't get anything for me," teases the man sitting behind us.
"Score, score, score, score!" clamor the cheerleaders as their team lines up near the goal-line. The crowd stands to see the play. As the quarterback sneaks through the line with the ball, the referee raises his arms to indicate a goal, and the drum sounds an approving beat.
The cheerleaders race down to witness the extra point kick. In the stands, the crowd responds with joy. The young couple next to me share their excitement by shaking my hand.
At halftime, the band ignites the crowd with its music as dancers and flag bearers move onto the field. A baton twirler delights the crowd as she hurls the baton higher in the air and retrieves it each time. And now, for real excitement, she twirls a flaming baton. Every child's eye is riveted on the flaming baton as it leaves her hand. (I applaud the mother who must have allowed such practice to take place in the back yard.) At the conclusion of her flame-twirling event, the majorette puts out the flame in a pool of water. The 16-year-old who has come to "watch football" is impressed.
The 7-year-old walks down to the other end of the stands and checks out the team's system for getting a drink of water. He has been conducting an informal study of water replenishment systems used by football teams in the county. This team has a water pump on wheels. He is still most fascinated with a PVC pipe arrangement used by the San Pasqual team.
A critique of the well-constructed concrete stands of Torrey Pines High School from the 7-year-old: he prefers wooden bleachers which allow cushions, purses, sweaters, and sodas to slip through. This offers another measure of entertainment--a retrieval service under the bleachers.
Two preschoolers sitting behind our family have exhausted most of the evening playing with their miniature cars on the seats. They pause occasionally to watch the action on the field below.
The teams return to the field, bursting through the sheets of paper held by the cheerleaders. The crowd extols their entrance.
Metallic pompons catch the night lights, as the teams fight to the finish. Meanwhile, the 10-year-old daughter and the 7-year-old son create a game of their own while reading the program. She reads the statistics, "6'1", 220 pounds," and he guesses the jersey number of the player she has described.
"Number 447," he says.
He tries again: "Number 66?"
"Yes," she answers. "My turn."
The final gun goes off signaling the conclusion of the game. We gather our belongings and head toward the parking lot. As the crowd exits, we behold the mascot removing the heavy head gear of the bulldog.
The following morning, I read the newspaper's account of the previous night's game. It is a bland report of the score and related vital information. I wonder where that writer sat.