High school football fans now have somewhere to explore the state’s fascination with Friday nights after the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum opened an exhibit about Texas high school football on Saturday.
The exhibit, titled “Texas High School Football: More Than the Game,” showcases all aspects of high school football culture; from grizzled fans who have followed their team for decades to homecoming mum designers, the marching band and of course the players themselves.
Joe Nick Patoski, the museum’s guest curator, said the tradition of high school football in Texas, which goes back more than a century, has become an important part of our culture.
“If you look at it as a historical subject, and as a current subject, this goes a long way of kind of explaining who we are as a people and as a culture,” Patoski said.
Patoski said while high school football may be played all over the nation, no state has approached the Friday night spectacle of Texas.
“You know, Texas is all about superlatives, whether it’s ‘We’ve got this great land mass’ or ‘We’re No. 1 in polluting’, we’re always proud to be No. 1 for whatever it is, and there are more Texas high schools that field football teams than any other state, period,” Patoski said. “It’s America’s game, but we do it better.”
Patoski said the unifying force of having a common enemy acts like a glue to bind a community together in unique ways. He has written about Texas and Texans for more than 35 years, and has seen the culture change.
He said in the past, suburban schools couldn’t get past the city schools, there weren’t more spirit groups than cheerleaders, and he remembers pep rallies that felt to him, as they still feel to many, like “sending the boys to war.”
“This is a crazy state and we’re a crazy culture — and when I say crazy, it’s in a good way — and I think everything about high school football reflects that,” Patoski said.
The 7,000-square-foot exhibit explores “sports as culture,” he said, and it includes jerseys, interactive sections, mascot uniforms and other pieces of handiwork that will remind any Texan of a historic hometown game.
Janice Todd, an education professor, said she hasn’t seen anywhere with as much excitement surrounding high school football as Texas.
“I have lived in other states. I lived in Alabama for a while, which is a big football state, and I lived and went to college in Georgia, which is another big football state. But I’ve never seen as much interest in high school football in either of those states,” Todd said.
She recalled the “tangible” excitement of an approaching fall season when first exposed to Texas high school football, including signs in people’s yards and constant discussion at the feed store in Luling near the ranch where she lived.
“Football is a sport that we identify with certain kinds of traditional values and with certain definitions of masculinity. It is mythic in a sense, much as the state of Texas,” Todd said. “Americans in general love heroes, and Texans I think in particular love heroes.”
She said having legendary teams in the state, such as the Dallas Cowboys and the Longhorns, continue to inspire boys from around the state to play hard.
Timothy Dillon, a spokesman for the museum, said the exhibit set record attendance numbers when it opened Saturday. He said the exhibit will last through most of the coming fall season and ends in January.
“People that came on Saturday were showing up in their old jerseys and colors,” Dillon said. “People are embracing it, and I feel like a lot of people have very emotional connections to it.”