Tomorrow 90,000 people will cram into Jordan-Hare stadium on the Auburn University campus to watch Auburn play the University of Georgia. It is the South’s oldest football rivalry, going back to 1892 when Auburn won 10-0.
It will be a spectacle An orgy displaying the mega bucks that dominate such events. There will be acres upon acres of expensive motor homes hosting tailgaters, Luxury suites where corporations wine and dine customers and friends. Fancy multi-million dollar “scoreboards” showering the stadium with ads and replays.
There will even be a football game.
I will watch it all take place in front of a friend’s TV.
But tonight there were no motor homes or tailgates or giant scoreboards. Just the teams representing two small schools tucked away in country hamlets. It was the first round of high school football playoffs and the panthers of Georgiana High in Butler County hosted the bulldogs of Winterboro in Talladega County. Both are 1A schools, the smallest classification of the Alabama High School Athletic Association.
Georgiana is an hour south of Montgomery on the interstate. Home town of the county music genius Hank Williams. I’ve been through there a jillion times headed to family reunions, funerals and visits with family and friends in Covington County. Winterboro is about smack dab in the middle between Sylacauga and Talladega. Right at the corner where Highway 76 runs into Highway 21.
Sure the field was the same size as the one at Jordan-Hare, but that’s about as far as the comparisons go. You might call it football with no frills.
A bunch of teenagers playing a game. One they will leave behind when they take off their high school jersey for the last time.
Mamas and daddies watching sons run and tackle and daughters lead cheers and play trumpets. Ticket takers bundled against the chill and parents running a concession stand.
It’s about 150 miles from Georgiana to Winterboro. And on this November night the visitors’ stands held the few and the faithful. Winterboro principal Emily Harris was there watching over her “babies.” The school chartered one bus for the team, another for the band and cheerleaders. The band bus got bogged down in Friday Atlanta traffic and ran late getting to Winterboro.. Emily fretted and checked her phone for messages from the band director.
“They’re south of Ft. Deposit,” she told me. That meant it would be another 30 minutes before they arrived. Which meant it would be touch and go as to whether they got there by halftime. (They didn’t make it.)
The band was not the only group to face difficulty this evening. At halftime Georgiana was ahead 38-0 and the final score was 64-0.
And so Winterboro’s season ended.
But as I got back on I-65 and headed home to Montgomery, I knew I left something behind that seemed pure and true. No glitz and glitter. Communities coming together to cheer on the home team, to say to their young people they believe in them and teachers devoted to their mission of nurturing young lives in any way they can.
And at its soul, isn’t that what this country is supposed to be all about?