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High School Football: A Game Of Guts And Ritual

Starting with training camp and all through the 2009 season, NPR will bring you some of the stories, struggles and victories of high school football and the communities who support it, while also exploring the costs and the issues the sport raises.

In big cities and small towns across the country, high school football is the ritual that defines the fall. And for many young men, it is the ritual that defines who they are.

More than a million American boys suit up and take the field every year, playing on more than 14,000 teams. Some have world-class workout facilities and top-notch coaches. Others compete with six on a side and an English teacher drawing up plays.

High school football is a phenomenon that touches virtually every aspect of American life — but it's not all quarterbacks and prom queens. It's big business. In many places, team budgets are growing fast. In some communities, the coaches earn well over $100,000 a year — often more than the principal, and way more than the other teachers.

And football is dangerous. Every year there are deaths from heat and exhaustion, and some 41,000 players suffer concussions. Ronald Reagan, himself a former high school football player, said in 1981, "[Football] is the last thing left in civilization where men can literally fling themselves bodily at one another in combat and not be at war."

For this series, NPR correspondents Tom Goldman and Mike Pesca will report from around the country from sweltering practices in August through the state championships in November. They'll report from communities big and small. They'll cover the games — and also tell stories of the athletes and schools, the families and communities who participate.

You'll find our reports on the radio — All Things Considered will feature stories each Friday afternoon. You'll also find stories online, where you can participate (find the instructions below). So get your cleats laced up and your pom-poms ready — we're about to take the field.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Quinn O'Toole