What makes a town a football town?
I’m not sure, but with North Tahoe paying Truckee a visit in the season finale Saturday, I’ve started to think about it.
When I became the sports and outdoors reporter for the Sierra Sun, a friend of mine insisted that Truckee was a football town where it was football, football, football.
But we were students at UNR and had spent countless days up in the Truckee area skiing, climbing, biking, hiking, etc., and I knew all too well that it’s not a football town. There is a solid football program at Truckee High, sure, but it’s not a football town.
People don’t move here for football. They move here for skiing, snowboarding, climbing, biking, insert-your-outdoorsy-sport-here, etc., and enjoy God’s country.
It’s an outdoorsman’s town.
I’m from Prescott, Ariz., home to the World’s Oldest Rodeo, Thumb Butte and Bill Gahn football. He was the varsity coach at Prescott High School and was known for pioneering several tough 4A teams and was a class C celebrity in the town.
Prescott is similar to Truckee, just a little bigger. In 1990, 19,000 lived there and in the 2000 census, it was 29,000. Gahn managed to pack the stands every home game. The average attendance is now around 2,500, even though Gahn has since moved on to coach football in a 5A high school in a Phoenix suburb.
But when Prescott High plays their rival, Prescott Valley’s Bradshaw Mountain High, you can expect that number to go up around 3,000. It’s a strong rivalry complete with everything you might want in one. There’s the away bleachers overflowing with the away crowd, the rumors of giant parking lot brawls after the game that never materialize and, normally, a great football game.
Prescott Valley is a little smaller town at 20,000. It’s a bedroom community for Prescott at eight miles away. They normally draw 1,000 to 1,500 spectators for home games, 2,500 in this year’s match-up with Prescott on Oct. 18 (I was there. Prescott won 14-7).
But despite all that football bruha, even these two towns aren’t football towns.
They’re baseball towns, if anything. The county bleeds baseball replete with countless local players being swept into the MLB draft.
Odessa, Texas, is probably the greatest of all football towns. Permian High in Odessa draws an average of 12,000 people for home football games and the stadium can hold up to 20,000. This is high school. You see that many people at a UNR game during a good season.
Then there are the population issues. Truckee is roughly around 13,000, 14,000, depending on whom you talk to. Odessa is over 50,000 and has more than one high school. Not to mention it’s 5A.
And it’s Texas.
And at least two books, “The Secret of Mojo” and “Friday Night Lights,” have been written solely on the Permian High football program. The movie Varsity Blues was based on rural 3A Texas football of the same nature.
So maybe that’s not a fair comparison. Prescott and Prescott Valley are both bigger towns than Truckee. When rival North Tahoe comes to play Saturday, we won’t see as many fans as Permian High or Prescott High, even though it is the big rival game.
The numbers of the schools are significantly different. Prescott High reported 1,700 students for this school year. Bradshaw Mountain has 1,300.
Truckee has just over 800, while North Tahoe has more than 500 students. The two Tahoe schools combined don’t equal the student body number of my alumni.
And the two Arizona schools have one major advantage for game attendance: Lights. Friday night games notoriously attract bigger and louder crowds than Saturday afternoon games. That fact alone could possibly sink my idea of a football town.
However, one thing sticks out in my mind about coach Bob Shaffer’s football program at THS: It’s a better one and is missing the political red tape that accompanies some high schools. I’m sure a kid or two has thought less of Shaffer, but from my experience with him and his players, it seems like they are having better experiences and a lot more fun than high school teams are supposed to have.
So, no, Truckee is not a football town. Call me a third party observer at best, but as that third party observer, I’ll say if I were playing high school football again, I would prefer to play it here where football is important, but it’s not the lifeblood of the town.