Long before the football players ever take the field under the stadium lights, the team takes the town. Early in the morning, at gas stations and coffee shops and grocery stores, people are sporting “Pace High School Football” tee shirts. There is an unspoken understanding that the game is a common destination later that evening.
The summer sun is still high and the concrete bleachers are still hot as we pass through the gates and hand our tickets to the cheerful, efficient booster club members. Lines are already long at the concession stands as fans load up on icy beverages and nachos dripping orange cheese sauce. The big grills are fired up and the scent of hamburgers drifts through the stadium.
The bleachers fill quickly with enthusiastic fans. It’s a reunion of sorts, with people of all ages finding their place among friends and family. Many moms sport large pins bearing the grinning face of their son and favorite player. The backs of their tee shirts typically read “Dylan’s Mom” or “#42 rules!”
The sound system belts out favorite country tunes from a local radio station until game time gets closer. As the time clock counts down, the high school’s junior reserve officers, crisp in their uniforms and motions, march to the sidelines carrying the flags. Marching bands for both sides arrive, and we measure the caliber of our opponents by the number of tubas in their band. May sound funny, but one year we were seriously challenged by a team whose band sported 13 tubas!
We stand as the colors are presented mid-field, and then the national anthem echoes from one side of the stadium to the other. The other team is introduced and the home fans are conspicuously silent. Many make their way onto the field to form a “spirit line” welcoming the home team.
“And heeeeeeere coooooooome the Paaaaaaatriots!” As the players charge through the spirit line and colorful paper banners, exploding onto the field, fireworks soar behind the scoreboard and the crowd leaps to its feet, erupting in cheers for their hometown sons and brothers. On Friday nights in Pace, Florida, everybody’s a Patriot!