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HEALTHWATCH : Rite of Passage Revisited Annually : Psychological ramifications seen in the gathering of men to watch the fall gridiron ritual.

September 23, 1993|LEO SMITH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Every Friday night this time of year, you're liable to see folks all over Ventura County heading to a local high school to take in a football game. Of course, many of the fans are students of the respective schools, many are relatives of the players, some are faculty.

There are also some adults in attendance who at one time were students on campus, but now have no direct ties to the school.

So why, years after graduation, do they come back to their old stomping grounds for a football game?

There are any number of answers.

It's a form of cheap entertainment, for one. It can be a chance to see a future pro star in his athletic infancy. Or it can be a way to see a sport played for the fun of it, rather than the money.

But, for those alumni, attending a high school sporting event is as much a connection to a more innocent childhood, to their youth, as it is anything else.

"We used to hang out with all our buddies. We went to every game," said John Alexakis, Ventura High Class of '64. "Back then it was a place to hang out. We were small town, cliquish, close-knit."

Alexakis said he attends about half of the school's home football games each year, and throws in some basketball contests too. He said he tries to maintain that small-town, more innocent feel amid an entirely different 1990s atmosphere, when he attends the games.

Local marriage, family, child counselors say he's not alone in this desire.

"People get a feeling of nostalgia. It brings back a memory of a fun time. It's a way to remember the good times, the way things were. Some people have quite an identity tied up with those years," said Ventura counselor Judith Sitko. "School is part of personal history and and this is a way to keep a connection with that."

Sitko said attending a sporting event at one's alma mater brings a healthy sense of community.

"There's a feeling of belonging that people need, even more than a family. There are peer ties, a way of remembering who you went to school with," she said. "And you feel akin to other people who are rooting for the team."

Of course, it's no secret that there's something about sports itself, that brings people together, particularly men.

Simi Valley counselor Sharon Potter said sports provides adult males with a forum to hang out with one another, similar to the time they spent together when they were young.

"It brings them back to a time of freedom, of daring, when they thought anything was possible. Childhood was a time of being together, of camaraderie. They had great pride in themselves, their school, their team," she said. "When they were kids they did the bonding thing. Now it's dog eat dog, each man for himself."

Though men don't bond much in the everyday world, said Potter, they do tend to bond through sports. "Sports is how boys hooked up with boys, they didn't talk about their feelings. Same way with men," she said. "I think it's very healthy."

And what about women. Why don't they need sports to communicate with one another?

"Women bond, and they have no problem talking about their feelings," said Potter. "Men have nothing else."

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