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Friday night lights

By Staff | Dec 14, 2018

Football field floodlights on Friday nights are a given all over the nation.

But there’s something extra special about it in the Midwest. It’s an unspoken truth about schools and communities in rural America: even if the crops need to be harvested, the local high school still needs a football team.

And so when a farm kid decides to take one night a week to play football, you know it’s a decision that came after copious thought, and maybe even after serious discussions with Mom and Dad about who will help with the harvest after school during football practice, and on Friday nights when he will not be there at all – and when Mom and Dad should be at the game.

Friday night lights for a typical farm kid can come in other forms than floodlights on a football field. In our case, we had two strong, strapping farm boys who spent their springs in a tractor preparing ground for planting, and their summers loading and unloading hay racks.

They spent their winters shearing and birthing sheep, and fighting for state wrestling berths on mats throughout Northwest Iowa. (Our boys reluctantly confessed once that, even though they fought their way to the medals podium at the state wrestling tournament during their senior year, actively shearing sheep was harder work.)

But fall evenings would find them in tractors, trucks and combines, being part of something that was larger than themselves.

It was a blow for our school’s football coaches, who had repeatedly asked them to play football while telling them they had their whole lives to work. And while that is true, it’s also true that you can’t take the country out of the country boy.

For example, our wrestling coaches would encourage all members of the team to come in and lift weights at school during the summer. Our boys tended to keep a full schedule of work all year around, all throughout high school. Their work day began very early in the morning all summer long, so going to the weight room wasn’t high on their list.

One day they invited their coaches out to help on the hay rack when they baled.

Following that afternoon the coaches told them there was no need for them to come to the weight room, because even they (coaches) couldn’t last stacking hay until the rack was full.

And these guys loaded and unloaded rack after rack all summer long.

For our guys, Friday night lights meant the lights of harvest time machinery, and doing what they loved doing-being part of what was their version of something special. Some high school kids can’t wait for football season, and that’s admirable. It’s discipline and hard work that brings them to Saturday morning with bruises and cuts, but still a feeling of great satisfaction in the work they are doing for their team and their school.

A couple of years ago I attended a football game in a nearby small rural town where the elevator’s grain bins are right behind the football field. It was scenic, and the drying fans were purring behind us all throughout the game. For me it was an awakening to realize that if this small, rural school was ever to have a football team, farm kids throughout the school’s history had to make up the team.

For them and their parents, the corn field was just going to have to wait until tomorrow.

But even today, some farm kids choose to walk in fields of gold on Friday nights, under the lights of combines, trucks and tractors … knowing that this is where they belong.

As they say, most farm kids clock in to the job at age five, and never really clock out.

They love the Friday night lights, too-and they have a clock running on their window of opportunity and their own tailgates, too.

They just have a little less fanfare.

Karen Schwaller is a Farm News correspondent from Milford. Reach her by e-mail at kschwaller@evertek.net and www.karenschwaller.com.

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