Friday Night Lights & Texas Homecomings

It was brought to my attention this year while talking to a marketing rep out of Washington State that not everybody ‘gets’ homecoming and football in Texas. He needed something from me – specifically time on the phone – in the last two weeks, and I didn’t have it to give. When he didn’t understand the words “homecoming has thrown up all over my desk,” I asked him if he’d ever seen the show Friday Night Lights. 

He had.

Then I said, “so you understand that football is close to its own religion in Texas, right?”

“Riiiiggghhht,” he answered, but I could tell he still didn’t understand that preparing for homecoming week is like preparing for the Pope to pop into town for the weekend once a year every year.

What this market rep does know is that he won’t get to talk to me until next week because, Homecoming in Iowa Park.

I never really considered that everyone didn’t grow up with Homecoming and bon fires and parades because it’s all I’ve ever known. I suppose all small towns have multiple generations graduate from the schools and have Friday night community reunions at the stadium.

It’s really easy to take that for granted, I think. I totally forgave myself when I realized this was my 47th consecutive homecoming in Iowa Park, so it is kind of like breathing.

This year, I decided at the last minute to take pictures at the game and really pay attention like I had never seen it before. Of course, I got distracted … a lot … by talking to people I hadn’t seen in 35 years (Shout out to Richie Haschke and Jeff Dietrichson!) and of course, by the FFA Corn on the Cob Stand.

This is for anyone who has never lived this charming spectacle called homecoming, unique in its own ever-evolving tradition and what it looks like to each generation. Absorb the glory, y’all.

Last week, I wrote about what I anticipated the weekend would hold. I think I hit the nail on the head on several counts but nothing was better than when my mother said, “I have never seen so many fanny shorts.” Also, pickle pops were 2 for $1 at the concession stand.

 

A couple of disclaimers. All I had was my iPhone, so you get what you get. I played with filters. More accurately, I took liberties with those filters. I never said I was a photographer … enjoy.

 

 

The Town

Welcome to Iowa Park, Texas, Population 6,355.

Itinerant merchants should consider themselves warned.

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Every year, Iowa Park has a Homecoming weekend in which reunions are held; alumni meet; and there are parades with fire trucks and floats, and bon fires and pep rallies, and a football game and a fabulous southern festival we Iowa Parkans call Whoop-T-Do. This is in a three-day period, and working at the newspaper it makes me tired and I need many naps.

The Crowd

The Homecoming Crowd (second disclaimer of the the post, and most likely not the last: Our stadium is not shaped like this. It seems that the iPhone panoramic shot can manipulate time and space) I have no idea what the capacity is, but rest assured it was full.

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The Tradition

Robert Wilcox, Iowa Park Hawk announcer for more than 65 years and considered by many to be the cornerstone of Hawk tradition around these parts.

He has the best announcer’s voice, and has never missed a game.
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This picture is what I meant when I was talking about generations. I know these fine people and that sweet baby boy is a third generation (maybe fourth) Hawk and the grandfather who is holding him played on the state champion football team the year my family moved to Iowa Park in 1969.

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The Mum

I’m going to be blunt here, and most likely indelicate. But in the words of my grandmother, you couldn’t swing a dead cat without seeing  mums. I could have taken pictures of mums forever. (Disclaimer: The Iowa Park Hawks beat the Bobcats 37-24, and there was no pun intended. I swear.) I’m sure you’re going to see glimpses of  mums in pictures to come, but the one below is the only full-on mum picture I took, for a few reasons.

wes_edited-1Wes and Kelsie of Chicago came home for Wes’ 10th class reunion at IPHS, which is so cool. Kelsie, is from Lubbock and had never had a mum because it was a large school. This was Kelsie’s very first mum, and the fact that Wes is wearing his high school football t-shirt, and Kelsie is wearing his Mom’s football pin of him from high school dead center in the flower is freaking amazing and so creative. For those who don’t know about mums, here are few fun fact:

  • Names of you and your beloved are on the streamers.
  • There are bells. Lots of them. If you hate casinos because of the noise, you will be allergic to homecoming.
  • You will see all kinds of things on mums these days, including feathers, tiny little helmets, and my personal favorite and seen for the first time this year … lights. Like little LED lights. If I ever get to luge in my life, I want to do it with waterproof and shock-proof LED lighting, for effect.

(Yet another disclaimer. Wes is not only one of my very best friend’s son, he was also one of my son’s roommates at Texas Tech. Am I playing favoritism? Absolutely not. I don’t think so. I like to think of it as serendipity. I made a mental note to be on the lookout for interesting mums and I happened to run into them in the parking lot before the game. If that’s not serendipity, I don’t know what is. )

Pre-kickoff Star-Spangled Banner by the Iowa Park Mean Green Marching Machine.

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This is the view of Hawk Stadium from the concession stand about 10 minutes before game time. The band plays their beautiful rendition of the National Anthem; folks stop what they’re doing and place the nachos they just purchased between their knees and place their hands over their hearts. The sun may not set in the West (just kidding, it will) but this will always be what the start of a home Hawk Football game looks like.

And while we’re on the subject . . .

The Food

Oh Lort. The food.

The concession stand in Iowa Park is run by the Iowa Park Band Boosters, and really has a big variety – the largest I’ve seen in all my years of attending games. However, Homecoming night, if you only want popcorn and a coke, it takes about 30 minutes and that is not during peak time.

Smart people plan ahead:

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Corn on the Cob by the Iowa Park FFA … ’cause it’s roasted in the husk then dipped in butter. Also, it is ridiculously good. Like this one:

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And, because in Texas one must season with wild abandon …

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The Selfie

I don’t normally do selfies, but the irony in this did not escape me. I’m taking dinky pictures with my phone (and I will admit I shamed the family with my selfie stick), and this guy sitting next to me is one of the best photographers I know. Seriously. He’s my brother, Kevin, but he’s also one of the best photographers in the state of Texas (and has hardware to prove it). He and my dad before him (newspaper family thing) have walked these sidelines almost 50 years documenting the Hawks as a passion and vocation. In Iowa Park, the two of them would be considered a tradition.

 Kev also played football on this field when he went to IPHS.

(Disclaimer: I think he hated this)

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My favorite picture of the night.

I call it young love meet homecoming meets cell phones.

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The Game

I use to shoot football for the paper and know full well that getting a really good live action football shot with an iPhone is as likely as me eating a Brussels sprout. So please, if you’re expecting to be wowed by my mad action football photography skills, lower your standards.

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This is really the best I could do, which was get a good, sharp picture of a duffel bag of footballs. Only it was accidental  the footballs alone turned out that good. I kind of was going for the many elements of a football game in one picture  –player action, crowd, referee, coach, trainer and bag of balls – proving you can never have too many.

Apparently everyone in the picture below was being relatively still since they don’t look like they’re in the witness protection program. Much. Some of them, anyway.

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I took this picture of the referee coming out onto the field at the beginning of the third quarter. I felt of sudden pang of empathy for him, realizing that both sides equally cuss the referees. So, hats off to you guys….don’t know why you do it, but thanks. (Disclaimer: I’m not real sure that holding call in the first quarter was legit, but I am letting it go. )

refIt appears my iPhone chose to focus on the Hawk instead of the  man in stripes because he is moving waaay too fast for an iPhone to focus. I’m fine, I tell myself. It’s artsy.

No, it’s not.  But remember, I didn’t promise you a rose garden.

However, things are about to improve.

Because, yay touchdowns!

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The Spirit

Although I was never a cheerleader after having early problems with confusing claps and stomps , I have mad respect for the these ladies and athletes. These are the 2016 Hawk Cheerleaders.

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I got worried early in the night when the flag corp (students that run with flags that spell H-A-W-K-S after every touchdown), when the K and the S were missing. However, K and S found their way back and helped announce the last four touchdowns.

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The band. This one took me back because until the end of my freshman year in high school I played bass drum. I only quit because I had to march sideways with it, and at 90 pounds, a strong wind could blow me and my bass drum into the visitor’s parking lot.

Truly, no homecoming or football game is complete without the band. Iowa Park’s Mean Green Marching Machine is as much a part of the tradition as the game.

bandThe Queen

What we’ve all been waiting for. The announcement of the Homecoming Queen. This year was incredibly special as Alex Van Natta was voted the 2016 Iowa Park High School Homecoming Queen.

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This photo was provided by Iowa Park Leader photographer and this blogger’s brother, Kevin Hamilton. I told you he was good. Also, even my iPhone knew this moment was too special for it’s limited skills. Not one photo I took of Alex came out. Thanks Kevin; congratulations Alex; and I hope each of you enjoyed spending Homecoming in Iowa Park even it was through this blog.

One more, because

This was one of my more favorite shots because, the look on this little guy’s face says it all.

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Homecoming time in Texas

It’s homecoming time in Texas, the time of year where you should be wearing a sweater and drinking pumpkin spice lattes, but instead it’s so hot you have to wear fanny shorts and suck on frozen pickle juice to avoid a heat stroke.

It’s the time of year for class reunions where there will be a certain awkwardness because Facebook has outed all the liberals and serious Candy Crush addicts, and everyone there will know who you are.

It’s the time of year when navigating your way around Hawk Stadium requires an absolute lack of personal boundaries or aversion to the sound of bells, specifically those attached to homecoming mums. It’s so crowded at the homecoming games that I understand it’s possible for children to be conceived with less physical contact than you will accidentally receive on your way to the fried corn on the cob wagon.

But even more noteworthy, it is a time of tradition; and rekindling of friendships; and of understanding change and reliving memories that shaped our lives.

You might notice the fact that the school you walked a mile to get to each day – uphill and in blizzard conditions – has changed.

Yes, the kids have it good these days, with a beautiful updated campus and a brand-new auditorium, gym, stadiums and more. They now carry their schoolbooks inside of a freakin’ iPad and enjoy stadium seating on the home side at basketball and volleyball games.

That mile is getting longer and the snow deeper, isn’t it?

But before you start shaking your fist like the old codger you swore to never become, think about this:

When the lever is thrown Friday night to turn on the lights at Hawk Stadium, you will be home.

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You will hear the familiar voice of Robert Wilcox, who has announced Hawk football games more than 65 years. You will hear your fight song and your school song; and you will not remember way too many names of people who have fond memories with you, but you will nod and smile like you do remember.

You may see turf in the place of the real grass you remember from your glory days, but there is a player on the field with the same drive and love for the game you had when you played.

Like me, you may remember sitting in those stands as a student . . . then a parent of a player, cheerleader or band member, and now as a nice return to all the goodness about small towns, including the fried corn on the cob the FFA sells at the home games. Mostly because it is home, but also because it gives us a human contact social media will never replace, and shouldn’t.

I fully expect it to be scientifically proven someday that the only cure for Facebook will be Texas homecoming games, which will give us a rather cool tourist industry. Mums would make great souvenirs and hot canned cheese poured over nacho chips from Sam’s  and sprinkled with  jalapeño slices grown in hell will be a destination favorite for people who still actually want to talk to other people face-to-face.

And that’s not all. There will be the annual bonfire Thursday night, Homecoming parade Friday afternoon; and Saturday promises a Whoop-T-Do, alumni activities and reunions. Add to that the many great restaurants and shops in town, and I smell the perfect weekend.

We will all be at the largest community gathering of the year where politics, religion and Candy Crush don’t matter. What matters is tradition and respect, and it’s already here.

Welcome home

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Iowa Park’s defacto community center

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