My wife, daughter and I decide to spend a sunny autumnal afternoon watching the homecoming football game at Huntington High School. I am excited to learn there might also be hotdogs (Esme is a fan and I like to imbibe with fried onions and complain about the vinegariness of American “mustard”). We are going mostly for the halftime show.

The endless stop-start of the first tortuous quarter is interrupted when a player is credited with scoring a touchdown after simply running (albeit quickly) to one end of the field with a ball and standing there. Illusions shattered, I recall rugby football and the lengths to which players of that sport will go, both to ensure and prevent the ball touching the turf in the ‘end zone’. I shake my head at this poor adolescent perpendicular in a two-dimensional box. Painfully aware that the cultural and empathetic deficits lie with me, I am relieved moments later when our child’s perpetual motion reaches a point of necessary diversion. We head to some grass beside the stand to play frisbee and burn off energy before halftime. We glimpse the cheerleading squad rehearsing energetically, and with one minute left of the second the quarter, we head back to Mum and our seats.

Play proceeds with stuttering predictability until, with 13 seconds remaining, a kid is injured and the world’s slowest-moving ambulance winds its way into the grounds and onto the field. I think on the cost of hospital treatment in this place where socialized healthcare is held to be a greater evil than devastating global climate change or death of the nation’s democracy. About a week later the final seconds of the quarter play out, and the feverish wheeling-on of percussion commences. The band lines up, looking ready, some members eyeing one of three drum majors who will conduct the ensemble from atop stepladders.

A brooding start to the music foregrounds the vibraphones in the foreground. Poetic. The clarinets are blissfully inaudible and the brass mostly in tune while saxes, drums and flutes carry the ensemble. The piece is long and the recall impressive, the size of the sound compounded by a following wind as it reaches the expectant ears of the audience. Some kids throwing flags around join in for a bit, and the people behind us start whooping. The choreography is impressive and tight, but I feel cheated by the lack of actual marching.

The school’s elite cheerleading squad takes to the field. They are flexible and well-rehearsed, and their synchronization is honestly amazing given the whirlwind schizophrenic bleeped-out R ‘n’ B mashup to which they move. They stay largely in time with the fast-changing tempi, and the Huntington High-Steppers indeed step high, but lead a single cheer they do not.

It is the hour of coronation for the homecoming monarchs. I hoped that the queen might be a flaming, flamboyant cowboy in chaps or a daring, debonair drag artist decked out in leathers and feathers. Instead, there is a smiley, confident teen in a nice dress with flowers unironically adorning her head. The king is not in ‘70s Las Vegas Elvis attire (a trick tragically missed), but nonetheless a mortified, lanky young dude with a clear desire to be swallowed up (regally) by a hole in ground.

There’s no way we’re staying for the second half. (Spoiler alert: one team beats the other, and next year some different kids in the same uniforms will play each other again for the same stakes.)

I have learned much today:

  • Touchdown is an infuriating misnomer;
  • Marching bands shuffle and sway;
  • Cheerleaders do not necessarily lead cheers;
  • I can see why colleagues resort to fantasy football in lieu of enduring the real thing

Finally, I would note that, in the words of British leftfield jazz artist Django Bates, “you kick the ball with your foot – that’s why they call it football” (but he was of course singing about soccer).

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