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Here's how schools' games beat pro sports

That I failed to enjoy a recent Tampa Bay Buccaneers game and then complained about this bloated, miserable event in print might have left the impression that I'm impossible to please, a grump about all sports.

Not at all.

My youngest son and I went to the Hernando High School playoff game Friday night, and, except for the last 90 seconds, when the average-looking quarterback on the other team suddenly turned into Aaron Rodgers, I had a blast.

The price of admission was $8, so the entire night cost less than a trip to a concession stand at Raymond James Stadium.

That venue, a lot of people tell me, is "impressive," referring, I guess, to the cheesy pirate ship and the celebratory cannon that fires every couple of minutes even when there's nothing to celebrate.

What's really impressive is Hernando High's Tom Fisher Stadium — a solid concrete, hurricane-proof monument to the local mining industry that gives close-up views of the brightly lit, emerald-green field and distant ones of moss-draped oaks on the fringe of the grounds. And if you sit on one of those slab benches for a couple of hours, you don't just feel like you've watched a football game; you feel like you've been in one.

A couple of hours. What a treat to see all of the action condensed into that amount of time. Or just a little more, because even here money concerns intrude. Lawsuit-leery officials kept stopping drives on this brisk night to make sure no player keeled over from dehydration.

"Water break? What is this, Hernando Youth League? Just play!" said one of the mothers sitting near me. That was another privilege — the elite company. I found myself sitting next to Licia Roundtree, for whom the game's ups and downs were highly amplified by the fact that her son, K.D. Hagood, started at defensive back. Next to her, also with a huge emotional stake in the game, was Lynnette Mobley, mother of quarterback Cleve Pope.

A couple of rows behind her sat her cousin, Dwayne Mobley, the former Hernando High star who had coached my son at county football camps. I had coached a few of the players on the field — not well, and in sports other than football — and had been watching many more of them play for years.

This was a communal activity, in other words, more so than pro sports ever were and much more so now that the life has been sapped out of them by TV time-outs and all the blaring pseudo-entertainment that fills in these lulls.

I prefer snare drums and horns and real cheers.

And for a while on Friday night, there were a lot of them, especially when, in the third quarter, power running back Jeremiah Jackson and the offensive line looked like they were not just beating opposing Gainesville High, but beating them up.

Then, on the last drive, the Hernando side went quiet except for some grumbling about the coaching and the play, and an amazing volume of cheering came from the tiny crowd across the field. Gainesville won, as I'm sure you've heard, 20-14. For high school football fans in Hernando, the season was over.

Basketball, however, is around the corner. Last school year, my son and I saw Nature Coast Technical High School's exciting final playoff game in an absolutely rocking gym.

The night before, I'd treated him to an Orlando Magic game in the new Amway Center, which we'd heard was not just impressive, but "awesome.''

Maybe. But with vast amounts of space occupied by a mid-level ring of corporate boxes, our seats in the upper section were so high that it looked like the game was taking place on the floor of the Grand Canyon.

And, a lot of the time, there was no game. Just dancers and mascots and people shooting T-shirts into the crowd.

So, my only disappointment with the NBA players' strike is that they beat me to the punch. I'd been planning a personal boycott.

Here's how schools' games beat pro sports 11/22/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 22, 2011 9:55pm]
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