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Editorial: High school football is where sports and community collide

September 25, 2018

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include correct numbers for Allegheny County school districts.

Football.

It’s synonymous with fall, and at least half the reason that regardless of the calendar or the thermometer, back to school seems like autumn has arrived.

It is more than pumpkin spice and apple cider. It’s the bridge between summer and winter. The “did you see that catch?” and “what about that score?” that bonds us over water coolers and PTA meetings.

More than that, though, it provides an almost tribal way to identify ourselves to each other.

I don’t mean just the big teams. The Steelers are awesome. I love Penn State, and I have an appreciation for Pitt (except for next week -- sorry).

But what really helps us define those brothers-in-arms associations is not who we cheer for in the big ESPN and network games, but what brings us out on a Friday night.

There are 17 school districts wholly contained in Westmoreland County, each with its own high school. There are another 43 districts in Allegheny County. The Trib’s High School Sports Network includes listings for all of those sports-playing high schools, plus charters, private and parochials and competitors from as far as Altoona and West Virginia.

For all of them, there is a common thread in their communities, a thread that brings them together each week.

The thread is football. But not just as a sport, because for many, the score is just part of the package. Football on a local level transcends whether your team won or lost, or even if your team is very good or not.

Believe me. My high school is going on a six-year stint of guys working really hard and winning two games, total. My nephew plays for a team that is in the hunt for a district or better title each year. It doesn’t matter to the people in the stands, sharing nachos and buying raffle tickets from the cheerleading boosters, which is which. They show up no matter what.

It doesn’t matter because high school football is where sports and community collide. It is all about supporting the home team, because this is as home as a team gets.

Say “us” about the Steelers, and it’s about an association you have chosen to make. Say “us” about Pitt or Duquesne or Penn State, and you may have gone to the school, or maybe not.

But say “us” about Steel Valley or Serra Catholic or Penn-Trafford, and you feel a closer connection. You went there. You live there. You know the coach or the quarterback or that little girl playing the big bass drum. Your son could be on the field. Your granddaughter could be on the sidelines. You might teach in the junior high and know how hard it was for that linebacker to get where he is.

Cheering for a big team is like buying a ticket. You feel ownership, like a little part of that team is in you.

Cheering for a local team? That’s investment, because a whole lot of you is out there with them.

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