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Under the Lights: A reflection on a life in football (with book recommendations) by Amianne Bailey

I grew up under the Friday Night Lights of Texas High School Football. As the daughter of an athletic trainer, I guess you could say I also grew up under the glare of the gymnasium lights and those that illuminated baseball diamonds and tracks. But since this is Texas, I lived for those fall Friday nights. My Mom crisscrossed the Metroplex taking my sister and me to the countless football, basketball, and baseball games (not to mention the track meets that were my least favorite), so that we could see our Daddy in action because he was rarely home on a Friday night in our childhood memories. His seasons really didn’t end–one rolled right on into the other until summer. Thankfully, our Dad valued quality over quantity in terms of time, so he always made up for his absence when we were together. And I know that my sister and I both agree–that even though high school sports took much of our Daddy’s time and attention–we wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Proof: My sister and I both married high school football coaches. We often joke that we knew exactly what we were getting into so we have no reason to complain about become football widows and pseudo-single moms when the season starts. Honestly, I think we were meant to marry coaches because we both “GET IT.” We grew up with this lifestyle–the Friday night games, forming ragtag gangs with the other coaches’ kids, hanging out in the field house, the late-night coaches’ parties after victories and losses, not seeing much of our Daddy on Saturdays and Sundays. But as a kid, the fun outweighed the sacrifice. Honestly, some of my best memories of my childhood are associated with a high school sporting event–rather it be going hoarse from cheering my Daddy’s team on to victory or heading to Austin for a state basketball tournament. Even though we didn’t have our Daddy around as much as we liked, my sister and I were (and still are) so PROUD to be Coach Hart’s daughters.
Since sports have always been a fixture in my life, it’s a good thing that I love them so much. I’m not just a coach’s wife; I am a sports FANATIC. I have an intense love for my teams (Gig ‘Em Aggies!), and my husband and I even named our daughters after prominent football figures (Hint: A coach named Tom and a QB named Manning–not Eli).

People often forget that Friday Night Lights was first a book; the nonfiction bestseller based on the 1988 football season of the legendary Odessa Permian High School football program inspired the movie, which came out in 2004 and starred Billy Bob Thornton and Tim McGraw. The TV show, which began in 2006 and lasted five seasons and is loosely based on the book, chronicles the on and off the field drama of the fictional Dillon High School Panthers, their coaches (Coach Taylor!), their families (Tami Taylor!), their players (Tim Riggins!), and the town. Thanks to Net Flix and the power of Twitter(search #cleareyesfullheartscantlose) FNL still enjoys a cult-like following even though it ended in 2011. Author Sara Dessen is a HUGE fan, and the show still inspires Buzz Feeds (http://www.buzzfeed.com/emilyorley/19-pieces-of-advice-from-tami-taylor).

Shockingly, I was late to the FNL party. My husband and I started watching it last summer (gotta love that NetFlix), and after a few episodes I had a startling revelation: I can’t watch this amazing show anymore. Even though I LOVED it and could devour an entire season in one lazy afternoon of becoming one with my couch, I stopped watching it in the middle of season 1.  Here’s why: Not only is FNL the story of my life, but it’s also the story that I’m writing. I’ve always dreamed of writing a book, so after years of overcoming fear and excuses, I am. And I took the best piece of writing advice ever given to me: Write about what you know. So I’m writing about two teenagers, a small town, and Texas high school football. My story is very different from FNL, but of course, there are themes that resonate, so that’s why I chose to stop watching the show because I didn’t want to be influenced by those storylines and worry about them seeping into my writer brain. Someday when my book is finished, I will relish watching Friday Night Lights. It’s not only my kind of show, it’s my kind of life.

If you know a teen who loves Friday Night Lights or sports in general, hand them these books:
Nonfiction:
The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game by Michael Lewis (movie)
Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis (movie)
My Losing Season by Pat Conroy
The Junction Boys by Jim Dent

Twelve Mighty Orphans: The Inspiring True Story of the Mighty Mites Who Ruled Texas Football by Jim Dent

Fiction:
Knights of the Hill Country by Tim Tharp
Raiders Night by Robert Lipsyte
Crackback by John Coy
Anything by Carl Deuker–Payback Time, Gym Candy, Swagger, Runner, Heart of a Champion
Pop by Gordon Korman
Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach
Anything by Mike Lupica–(QB1, Game Changers, The Underdogs)
I know that many who look at Texas high school football from the outside might scratch their heads in confusion or even become critical because they just don’t get it–the passion, the fanaticism, the LOVE for “a town, a team, and a dream.” But I get it. And I embrace it. As a coach’s kid, a coach’s wife, and a high school educator, I have watched the power of sports impact the lives of young people in a positive way. I have watched countless coaches devote their time and hearts to a group of young athletes–to bringing out the best in them. These coaches become parent-figures, motivators, teachers, disciplinarians, and true mentors to thousands of young people each season.  From the outside, it might look like it’s only about winning, but it’s about so much more than that. It’s about molding character, teaching life lessons, making a difference in the life of a kid.  Win or lose, lives are changed on football fields, gym floors, baseball diamonds, and tracks all across Texas each season. And THAT’S why I have cherished growing up from a coach’s kid to a coach’s wife. I love knowing that in some small way, I’m still a part of that great community of coaches–true life-changers.

As they say in Dillon, Texas, “Clear Eyes. Full Hearts. Can’t Lose.”

Amianne Bailey is a High School Librarian in Texas.  She previously wrote the awesome post Atticus Was Right. Before she found her “dream job” in the library, she worked in the trenches as a high school English teacher for eleven years. She loves to read (obviously), spend time with her family, and watch sports. You can visit her blog at http://mywesternsky.blogspot.com/.

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