Your body reacts chemically to various and sundry things, stress, being in love, anxiety, you get the picture.
Whether your palms sweat, you get “butterflies” in your stomach or any other of a number of symptoms, you can tell when something is affecting you, negatively or positively.
This time of year, every year, my body has a chemical reaction: I can’t sleep and adrenaline courses through my veins; I’m uncontrollably giddy and at times can’t stop talking.
From the time I was a little girl to now, my 38th year, when high school football season starts I have a visceral reaction that is a byproduct of happy memories and exhilarating anticipation, neither of which has quelled over time.
My father was a high school football coach at East Hall, and I started attending summer practices with him when I was five, maybe six, and didn’t stop until I’d reached high school.
Every afternoon, and some mornings, he’d load me into his latest jalopy and off we’d go to East Hall Stadium. We’d stop each day at a convenience store on Jesse Jewell – it still exists – and get a snack. My snack of choice varied, my father’s did not: a pack of peanuts and a Coca-Cola, the former he always poured into the latter.
We’d pass New Holland Mill heading out of Gainesville and giggle with each other because my father would ask me possible products – in jest – made at the mill; he’d come up with the most random items.
Back in those days the Vikings practiced on the baseball field that sat below the stadium, but everybody parked at the fieldhouse, my father in the same spot every day. We’d go through our own pre-practice rituals, his much more involved than mine, which largely consisted of finding the best football to toss around and mixing up Gatorade for the day’s hydration breaks.
I’ve got great memories from those practices, obviously, and they’re brought to mind more than just this time of year, but those memories don’t hold a candle to the first time I realized my body had a chemical reaction to the start of the high school football season.
Before I was allowed to eat pre-game meals with the Vikings, ride the bus to away games and stand on the sideline for games – and that did happen eventually – I rode to every game with my mother, who didn’t miss one.
We’d listen to Willie Nelson or The Trio, talk, laugh, and do things like stop and get apples from a little stand near Tallulah Gorge on the way to watch the Vikings play Rabun.
That said, I don’t know how old I was, but I do know I was in the single digits, and we were driving down Old Cornelia Highway on our way to East Hall’s first home game of the year. I was anxious to get to the stadium, even though at the time I didn’t know what I was feeling was called that, and I was looking out the windows of the car when I saw through a break in the trees, just before reaching East Hall Road, the stadium lights shining. It was only a brief glimpse of the lights, but one that created a kind of excitement inside me that I felt from my stomach up through my throat; my eyes got wide, I smiled and I shuddered.
This time of year, every year, as kickoff approaches, my body reacts like it did the first time I saw stadium lights through a break in the trees on Old Cornelia Highway.
This time of year every person going to a game tonight, every coach coaching, player playing, cheerleader cheering, band member making sweet music has a place, a time, an image that creates in them what I’ve described. Maybe it’s the team’s intro music, finding your seat, hearing the drumline or smelling the hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill that brings on the chemical reaction.
When you feel it tonight, or next week, or the week after, take a moment to smile and let yourself shudder. Happy football season everybody.