Friday Night Lite

Far away from big cities, big stadiums and big offensive lines, six-man football keeps the game pure

If there's an ultimate authority on the sport, it is Austin's Granger Huntress, 38-year-old communications manager for the U.S. Tennis Association and keeper of a Web site devoted to scores, schedules and rankings of Texas six-man football. His knowledge of the game is encyclopedic. Want to know the score of the 1979 six-man state championship game between Milford and Cotton Center? Huntress can give it to you off the top of his head. He'll tell you that tiny Marathon, in the Big Bend, once enjoyed a 50-game winning streak but, alas, this year had to forfeit all of its games since just three players reported for the team. Remember '95, when little Mullin High, out in West Texas, played a Colorado school from Weldon Valley for the mythical six-man national championship? Huntress was there, roaming the sidelines.

Recently he rushed home from the U.S. Open Tennis Championships in New York to keep alive his routine of seeing at least one six-man game every weekend. Sometimes he manages to see several. "I try to see at least 15 or 20 games a season," he says. His travel plans are Lone Star State-simple. "I look for the good games that will be played near some place I can get good barbecue," he says. The color and atmosphere of the rural sport fascinate him. "All the wonderful clichés are there: community pride, school spirit, good people. I love it."

And, ironically, the sport he religiously follows is thriving--but for a negative reason: Small-town Texas continues to vanish, swallowed up by economic hard times and the lure of urban life. "What has happened to Penelope is a textbook example of what is happening to so many rural towns. Farming is no longer very profitable, and the job market has dried up, so people move to the city to find work. Suddenly the school enrollment is so small that it is no longer possible to field an 11-man football team. So they drop down to six-man."

Downtown Penelope is a ghost town--literally. Town life centers around the school, where Weston Walton helps Cindy Watson get ready for volleyball practice (top right), and Penelope High School cheerleaders (above left) prepare a "spirit" sign for homecoming. Enthusiasm runs high during an afternoon pep rally (center), and Bonnie Jones proudly wears her homecoming mum (far right). For the players on the school's 11-member football team, a pregame prayer is traditional (bottom).
Downtown Penelope is a ghost town--literally. Town life centers around the school, where Weston Walton helps Cindy Watson get ready for volleyball practice (top right), and Penelope High School cheerleaders (above left) prepare a "spirit" sign for homecoming. Enthusiasm runs high during an afternoon pep rally (center), and Bonnie Jones proudly wears her homecoming mum (far right). For the players on the school's 11-member football team, a pregame prayer is traditional (bottom).
Homecoming Queen Natalie Matula (above, far right) joins classmates at a fence-rail vantage point to cheer on the Wolverines. Then, at halftime, she and other members of her court slog their way onto the field barefoot--it was so muddy, the high heels were left behind.
Homecoming Queen Natalie Matula (above, far right) joins classmates at a fence-rail vantage point to cheer on the Wolverines. Then, at halftime, she and other members of her court slog their way onto the field barefoot--it was so muddy, the high heels were left behind.

Each year, he says, he sees more and more schools with marginal enrollment downsizing to the six-man game.


Many missed tackles, fumbles and dropped passes have contributed to the Wolverines' third lopsided defeat of the season. As the crowd winds its way toward the parking lot, Corey McAdams gathers his players at midfield. He briefly reprimands a frustrated player who has thrown his helmet onto the ground in disgust, then his voice turns soft. His comments are focused more on the brief signs of improvement than a ranting recap of mistakes. "We're making progress," he says. "We've just got to keep working."

Nearby, April McAdams shakes her head. "I know he's disappointed," she whispers. "He really thought this was a game they had a chance of winning." A week later, while playing Iredell, the Penelope team reached one of the goals Coach McAdams had set. The Wolverines established a new school single-game record by amassing 40 points. Unfortunately, Iredell scored 88.

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