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Friday Night Lights: Texas High School Football Traditions

September 8, 2023 Texas, Texas History, Safety

There’s a reason the popular Friday Night Lights movie and television series were set in Texas: our Lone Star State has a tradition of high school football like no other state.

“By 1920, the University Interscholastic League (UIL) organized the structure of the high school football game in response to the growing popularity of the sport in Texas. Town football teams had begun competing around the state in the early 1890s,” explained the Texas Almanac.

And as long as there has been high school football in Texas, there have been traditions, such as the homecoming mum, which make the experience unique.

“You hear the homecoming mum before you see it, but when you see it, you really take a look. For decades, high schoolers across the state have crafted (or enlisted others to craft) these all-out bouquets, gluing together silk flowers, ribbons, teddy bears, and plastic trinkets for an individualized, sparkling token of school spirit,” explained Texas Monthly. “Whatever the mum’s final form, the traditional corsage is revered as a rite of passage for Texas teens. It’s also, increasingly, an over-the-top, outrageous opportunity for creative expression.”

Here are some of the traditions that make Texas high school football one of the joys of raising a family in the state:

Everything is Bigger in Texas Including the High School Football Stadiums

High school football stadiums in most parts of the country are modest affairs but not in Texas where high school stadiums rival those found on college campuses.

“The Friday Night Lights storyline is true because Texas really does care that much about high school football,” says Huddle Up.

Texas high school football stadiums by the numbers, according to the publication Huddle Up:

  • Total number of stadiums: 1,267
  • Total statewide capacity: 4,434,943
  • Average seating capacity: 3,500
  • Total number of stadiums with 16,500 seats or more: 8
  • Total number of stadiums with 10,001 to 16,000: 75
  • Texas High School football fans spend an estimated $443 million on tickets each season

“This infatuation with large stadiums started with Permian High School, who spent $5.6 million, or $16.8 million inflation-adjusted, on a brand-new stadium in 1982,” reported Huddle Up. “The trend then continued with Southlake, a Dallas-Fort Worth suburb, spending $15.3 million on the then-new Dragon Stadium in 2001. That stadium has 11,000 seats, and the construction cost comes out to $25 million once adjusting for inflation today.”

Most Expensive high school football stadiums in Texas, according to Huddle Up:

  • Cy-Fair FCU Stadium at Berry Center (Cy-Fair ISD)

o   Cost: $80 million

o   Seats: 11,000

  • Legacy Stadium (Katy ISD)

o   Cost: $70.3 million

o   Seats: 12,000

  • McKinney Stadium (McKinney ISD)

o   Cost: $70 million

o   Seats: 12,000

  • Eagle Stadium (Allen ISD)

o   Cost: $60 million

o   Seats: 18,000

  • Woodforest Bank Stadium (Conroe ISD)

o   Cost: $49 million

o   Seats: 10,000

  • Children’s Health Stadium (Prosper ISD)

o   Cost: $48 million

o   Seats: 12,000

  • Memorial Stadium (Beaumont ISD)

o   Cost: $47.3 million

o   Seats: 10,600

  • District Stadium (Tomball ISD)

o   Cost: $42.6 million

o   Seats: 10,000

  • Freedom Field (Alvin ISD)

o   Cost: $41.4 million

o   Seats: 10,280

  • Challenger-Columbia Stadium (Clear Creek ISD)

o   Cost: $39 million

o   Seats: 10,000

Mum’s the Word: Texas Homecoming Tradition

Homecoming mums have been a popular Texas homecoming tradition since the 1930s.

Texas Highways says the first mum sighting was at Baylor University in 1936 and that today some high school students splurge on $1,000+ high-end mums with the world's largest created by (who else!) Whataburger at 18 feet.

“The flower’s temporal qualities led homecoming-goers to transition to artificial flowers, which were glamorized in the ’90s. Today, mums often include more than one flower and extend wider than the shoulders, with ribbons trailing down to the feet, so that only the wearer’s head is visible,” wrote Julia Jones for Texas Highways. “The gaudier, the better. Garters have stayed relatively tame in size, although they’re frequently decked out in the same manner. The spectacular displays are only to be worn on the day of the fall homecoming game, never to the dance typically held the following evening.”

Jones says the Texas high school football homecoming mums vary by region including the following:

o   North Texas: Large, with standard school colors.

o   Gulf Coast and South Texas: Traditional, smaller mum.

o   Houston: Large, with school colors and nontraditional colors like plum, cream, teal, and pink.

o   Central and East Texas: Knee-length or shorter, more traditional.

o   West Texas: Smaller, trinket-heavy, waist-length.

For the maker of mums, by the way, the season never ends as they must get to work on the mums for the following year immediately after the current season ends.

The Dallas Morning News reported that a high school class in Midland recently took the tradition to the next level, constructing two large mums that are roughly 10 feet tall and made of layers of purple and gold ribbon, the school’s colors, and emblazoned with the school’s mascot, the Bulldogs.

“It’s just a big Texas deal where we go and show our spirit,” Midland High School teacher Shawna Braden told NewsWest 9.

Homecoming in More than a Football Game in Texas

Another proud Texas high school football tradition is that Homecoming is far from just another football game where alumni make an appearance, but a week-long celebration.

Texas high school football Homecoming weeks can feature mums and more, including:

  • Spirited pep rallies.
  • Wearing themed outfits to school each day of the week.
  • Bonfires.
  • Fireworks.
  • Parades.
  • Nominations for homecoming kings and Queens.
  • Dance on Saturday night after the football game.

“Fall in Texas means football and for any high school or college team, football season includes homecoming. Homecoming is a celebration. A celebration of school spirit and a celebration of community,” says Mumtastic.

Texas High School Football Halftime Shows are the Main Event for Some

While all eyes may be on the football players and the scoreboard, for many students and their parents, the high school halftime show featuring award-winning bands and drill teams is the main event.

“High school football is more than a game; it is a community event.  The Friday Night Lights are not just for football players; it’s also for the band, cheerleaders, drill team, color guard, booster clubs, and the fans,” said Frontier Texas. “Months of preparation go into the first football game. Practices begin in the heat of the summer and continue throughout the season.  Football players begin training, the marching band begins working on their show, and the drill team and cheerleaders prepare for pep rallies and halftime shows.”

As can be expected, the high school bands in Texas are bigger than anywhere else with the Allen High School Escadrille claiming to be the largest high school marching band in the U.S. with over 800 students including musicians, drill team, and color guard.

The Allen band, established in 1910, has performed not only at high school football games but has made multiple appearances at the Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena, California, and at the St. Patrick Day’s Parade in Honolulu, Hawaii, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City, and the Dublin Lord Mayor Ball in Ireland.

All told, more than 1,200 Texas high school marching bands, private and public schools, take the field each year in competition as fierce as that found during the football game.

It’s not just the music, but Texas drill teams have a proud tradition, thanks to the fame of the Kilgore College Rangerettes who popularized the high-stepping routines in the 1940s.

“Dance drill teams are a highlight at parades, ribbon cuttings, and football halftimes, and all over Texas, the girls folks love best are the Kilgore Rangerettes,” Texas Monthly said in 1983.

That tradition, like that of the band and the mums and Homecoming Week carries on in Texas high school football today.

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