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Column: Small-school football can be big-time football, too

The views of the author are not necessarily the views of AllOnGeorgia.

I will be on St. Simons Island tonight.

But, I won’t be there to listen to live music in one of the establishments in the Pier Village.

Nor will I be there to have dinner at one of the many fine eating places over there.

I will be there for a high school football game, a Georgia Independent School Association game between the hometown Frederica Academy Knights and the visiting Bethlehem Christian Knights.

I’ve been to Frederica for football games before, of course. But whenever I am there, I am reminded of my first experience with small-school high school football in Georgia.

I was a freshman at the University of Georgia. A girl that I was interested in invited me to go see her brother’s Friday night game back home in Monticello.

I was in for a real surprise, but also a real treat, which I unfortunately didn’t realize until several years later.

For starters, I was on the spot. The whole family was there to see this guy that was coming home with their daughter, granddaughter and niece.

I suppose I handled that well. We ended up dating and I think I was always welcome there.

But that particular Friday evening would have been a family affair even without me showing up on the scene.

We drove straight to the grandparent’s house, which was just across the street from the football stadium.

Granddad was a local sports historian for the high school. Dad was the former head football coach and was then serving as the school’s principal. Mom also worked for the local school system and their daughter was a former cheerleader for the Hurricanes.

And the brother, son and grandson was one of the team’s top players.

So, you can see, Monticello football had long been a family affair for these fine folks.

And then, here I am, this dumb college kid from South Georgia who was aware that high school football was played in smaller communities across the state. But at the time, I had never been exposed to it.

I was used to bigger stadiums, bigger crowds, larger bands and cheerleading teams.

I knew Brunswick High and Glynn Academy, the Savannah schools and places like Valdosta, Statesboro, Jesup and St. Mary’s.

Obviously, a couple of those places aren’t all that big, but they’re bigger than Monticello and so is their high school football stadium and team roster.

I don’t remember, but I probably giggled when I walked in this quaint little place they called the Rose Bowl Field.

I think I chuckled as I counted the players on both teams during warm-ups.

I probably giggled when I saw the size of the marching band and the cheerleading team, too.

I don’t remember much about the game itself, but I do remember going to a few more over the next couple of years. And every time I did, I gained a little more appreciation for small-town football in Georgia.

Still, it took me a little more time to really appreciate the fact that many of the smaller communities in our state have a passion for the local high school team that equals and might even surpass that of the bigger towns and schools in Georgia.

I’ve had the pleasure of covering games in places like Darien, Folkston and Homerville. The games I’ve witnessed just in those places alone were among the best games I’ve ever covered in my sportswriting career.

In one of my trips to Charlton County, the Indians gave the 1999 Brunswick High team that played for the Class 4A championship all it wanted before the Pirates prevailed 7-0.

One game I saw at McIntosh’s old field featured a back-and-forth battle between MCA running back Jermaine Austin who was running for touchdowns in one direction and Athens Academy quarterback Joe Tereshinski who was throwing touchdown passes going the other way.

And as for the game I covered in Homerville, that was McIntosh against a big, bad Clinch County team that the Bucs managed to upset on their way to playing for a state championship just a few years back.

Over time, I’ve come to appreciate small-town prep football on many levels.

The fans in many of these small communities are deeply invested in their local team. The kids in the bands and on the cheerleading squads work just as hard as their counterparts at bigger schools.

And certainly, the players practice just as hard and many of them are just as good as those who play for the larger schools in our state.

Big-school football in Georgia gets national attention and plenty of press within the state borders, too.

But Georgia high school football wouldn’t be what it is without these smaller schools and towns doing their part to make Friday nights at the high school football game the place to be this time of the year.

Kevin Price is a freelance writer for AllOnGeorgia with more than 20 years experience in journalism and communications.

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