Islander's Blog

High School Football and the Ghost of Norman Rockwell

The crisp autumn Saturday afternoons once had an iconic feel to them, the stands filled with neighbors and two high school football teams facing off on the field. Like any number of things on this island, those days feel like a memory of a different time.

It was not too long ago that the legendary Vito Capizzo had a monopoly on athletes. Kids grew up knowing their fathers and uncles had played for Vito, wanting nothing more than to take part in that tradition.

Maybe it was the power of that tradition, combined with the feeling that football was the only game in town, that allowed a tiny school like Nantucket to pile up all those wins. Vito was able to build himself a nice program. Then things began to change.

This is not a screed against what Capizzo used to call “Commie round ball,” back in the days when the argument was that the arrival of more varsity sports would dilute the talent pool. The more choices the better, so far as I’m concerned. This season’s big game with Martha’s Vineyard happened on the soccer field. The Whalers won.

This is just me wondering what it is about football on fall weekends that makes it different from other sports.

I went to a soccer game a few years ago to watch Caio Correa, before he left to chase a professional dream in Brazil. The stands were filled, flags of Brazil and Jamaica were being waved next to the Nantucket flag, in what seemed like a symbol of the new island. The game was exciting to watch. I never went to another one.

On autumn afternoons now I root for the field hockey team.

The team seems very well coached. I know the coach, so maybe that influences my opinion. Still, even without understanding the game, it is easy to see that the players are skilled and focused.
I have a very limited grasp of what is happening on the field. It doesn’t matter. I root for them. I chat with other parents. I read the newspaper. My daughter graduates the year after next. Odds are that I will probably never watch another game, unless my granddaughter plays.

That’s what happens in high school sports. Parents go to cheer on their kids. It is great when a team puts together a good season and makes a run for the state tournament. Other than that, the final score only really matters to the players and coaches.

What used to be called schoolboy sports are simply a way to teach kids some lessons they cannot get in the classroom. How to be part of a team, and sacrifice for that team. How to win with class and lose with grace. How to show up every day. Some of those lessons are more important than the classroom lessons in the long run.

Somehow football was always different. Maybe it’s because there is only one game a week. Maybe the game is simply a part of the season, more so than other sports. Maybe it’s some kind of Norman Rockwell madness.

The crowds have been getting smaller for a few years now. I don’t think it has anything to do with wins and losses in any given year. I just think that things change.

So this Friday I will catch the Whalers first home game. I will eat a couple of linguica dogs, maybe a chowder, and see if it makes me feel like it is really autumn once again.

– John Stanton

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