High school American football has always been a source of community, evident from shows like Friday Night Lights, to the many country songs that reinforce the idea of going to the high school to support your Boys of Fall. When your community feels like it’s being ripped apart and under attack after a tragedy like a mass shooting, there are times where you think that there’s nowhere else to turn.
I grew up in Dayton, which this summer saw a mass shooting that tore us apart. Very quickly the community was invaded by the national narratives and people began to look past each other rather than grieve together and recognise what each other were going through. When we needed community the most, we abandoned it and fell into fighting with one another.
What we have seen in other cities, however, is the use of football teams to reunite. Newtown was struck with a gruesome massacre at their elementary school, Sandy Hook, which saw children as young as six become victims in their own classroom. For seven years, their community has struggled for answers and have come together in their grief. Their high school football team, some of whom are family of victims and others who attended the school, have become an inspiration. They have gone from being a small school team to state champions, and they won their title on the seventh anniversary of the tragedy. That moment brought the entire city to a stand still and for the first time in seven years, sparked true joy in the little town again.
Now as we get closer to Superbowl LIV, the NFL have announced that for warm-ups, the media will use Stoneman Douglas High School’s team, who will be practicing plays, for their run throughs. They won a division title after the shooting and have pulled off another inspirational season this year, posting a winning season and claiming second division title. They dedicated both seasons to “The 17”, in reference to those lost in the still-locked wing of the school, which has not been occupied since investigators left in 2018. The school and some players have been crucial to the school-led movement “March for Our Lives”. The group started as a handful of students in Stoneman Douglas and led to a demonstration of nearly 800,000.
While Friday night might seem like a time for the city to get together around the US, for some places it means a bit more. When you need the community the most, a bit of popcorn, cheerleaders, a brass band, and some good ol’ pig skin can go a long way.