Gentle readers, by now I’m hoping that all of you have watched Cheer – the Netflix docu-series that follows the cheer team of Navarro College (a junior college in Corsicana, Texas, ~50 miles south of Dallas) to their 2019 competition at the Collegiate National Championship in Daytona, Florida. It’s a delightful look at the young men and women who are part of the team – their lives, motivations, persistence in the face of challenges and the work (and coaching, shout out to Monica Aldama) that it takes to get to the national stage.
While I could go on about the virtues of this short series, the point is that this story feels like one chapter in a long history of the hegemony of sports in the state of Texas.
I have mixed feelings about this.
In 2004, honeymooning in Mexico, my husband and I both devoured Buzz Bissinger’s “Friday Night Lights: A Town, A Team, and A Dream”(and sadly, I still haven’t watched the TV series!!) I remember thinking that it was crazy for a town to get so wrapped up in a high school sport and to spend that kind of money on football stadiums for teenagers! Then I learned that New Orleans Saints Quarterback Drew Brees graduated from the same high school in Austin, Texas that my niece and nephew attended (go Chaps!) We’ve all been awed by the grace, athleticism and talent of America’s most decorated gymnast, Simone Biles, who lives and trains in Spring, Texas – just north of Houston. Bela Karolyi, the famed gymnastics coach who defected from Romania in 1981, opened Karolyi Ranch in the piney woods of Huntsville, TX which from 2011- 2018 was the official training center for the women’s Olympic team. The ranch was permanently closed after revelations surfaced that Dr. Larry Nasser sexually abused team members at the facility.
I’m getting a bit off track here – but my point is that Texas has an outsized legacy when it comes to sports of many kinds. And I’m witnessing it in small ways in my daily life. For instance, it is not uncommon to see yard signs at intersections advertising opportunities to train with a “D1 athlete” in baseball, basketball, etc. My 13-year-old daughter now talks about D1 schools…which I guarantee would not have happened if we were still living in Saint Paul. My 6th grader longs to play on the middle school’s tackle football team – tiring of us putting him on flag football teams. Then there’s the club swim team where the meets attract hundreds of swimmers from across the state and as far away as Arizona! The event times are unreal! For you swimmers out there, to qualify for the South Texas Age Group Championships as a 13 year old girl, you need to swim a 50-free in 26.09; a 100-free in 56.79, and a 500-free in 5:35.09! Folks, that is FAST for anyone, but a 13 year-old – sheesh! Lastly, whether its our school district or a small town, it is not uncommon to see public squares or school property festooned with yard signs holding the name of each individual athlete on a team that’s going to some big game, championship, etc. I had never seen this before.
In my 6-months of Texas residency, it is clear to me that sports are no joke in the Lone Star state. I found a lot of meaning in sports as a kid and young adult – my participation on teams didn’t completely define me, but during those seasons they were a big part of who I was. I don’t know how it feels for the Texan kid who isn’t into sports – I mean this is a perennial life stage regardless of time or place – but like most things here, everything is bigger in Texas.