ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
We're going to spend a few minutes now introducing a project that we're kicking off tomorrow. With the help of our sports correspondents, Tom Goldman and Mike Pesca, we're going to take the field with high school football teams across the country this season. We'll go to practices and games, hit the weight room and sit in the stands with the boosters - all the things associated with this uniquely American phenomenon.
Tom Goldman and Mike Pesca are with us. And, Tom, out in the Pacific Northwest, first to you: Why football?
TOM GOLDMAN: As many listeners know, it has this special place in American culture, for better or for worse. Personally, I've been covering sports for NPR for nearly 20 years now and I've always been struck by the passion surrounding high school football, whether it's in big cities or small towns.
Last year, I did a story on six-man high school football in Wyoming and really saw how the football team was the glue in small towns like that. So, it really is the event, come fall, in high schools around the country. Mike and I thought it would be fun to try to catch the wave this season - see what we could find out.
SIEGEL: It's not just passion and glue, though. There are some serious issues raised by high school football.
GOLDMAN: Well, there are. I mean, it's - you know, in some places it's a big business. Many places, team budgets are growing fast at a time when there's not a lot of cash around. In some communities the coaches now earn well over $100,000 a year and that's often more than the principal and a lot more than other teachers - and that creates tension, obviously. And football, as you well know, is dangerous. Every year there are deaths from heat and exhaustion and it's estimated some 41,000 players suffer concussions each year.
And there's also, Robert, the social aspect, which can make high school football somewhat polarizing. As our editor said, it's kind of like a John Hughes movie. You've got your football players and your big time fans and then everyone else. And the everyone else group learns to hate football at an early age and carry that through life. And Mike and I are going to try and find those people, too. So look for our reports on the AV crews and the debate teams and the goths and what not.
SIEGEL: Well, let's turn to Mike Pesca, who is at NPR's New York bureau. And Mike, you've been reporting from summer practices this week.
MIKE PESCA: Yeah. That phrase, summer practice, makes it sound pretty benign. In the east, where the practicing could begin in earnest this week, they began with two-a-days, which, actually, with some teams are three-a-days. So a practice in the morning, a brief rest often in an un-air conditioned gym and then a practice in the afternoon. I was in a town called Piscataway in New Jersey, which is a very working-class community. They have an excellent football team there: the Chiefs. And it was the first day of two-a-days. The temperature topped 90 degrees. With the heat index, it was just really, really hot.
I also yesterday went to a team that plays out of Philadelphia: St. Joseph's Prep. A lot of similarities, but a very different kind of demographic. But the teams and all these players throughout the country are doing these two-a-days with the mantra being the pain in August pays off during the play-offs in November or early December, as the case may be.
SIEGEL: Now, we're also asking NPR listeners to get involved here. How do they do that?
PESCA: Well, I think that you go to npr.org. The series is called Friday Night Lives. Quinn O'Toole, our editor, came up with that one. It's a great name. And we want to know - because, you know, we can only know so much from ourselves -is there something in your community that we should know about, like a player, a coach, a ritual, an issue, a topic, maybe nationally that you'd like us to explore? So we direct you to npr.org, and we really ask for your feedback.
SIEGEL: Well, Tom Goldman and Mike Pesca, thanks a lot.
GOLDMAN: You're welcome, Robert.
PESCA: You're welcome.
SIEGEL: And Tom and Mike were talking about the series that starts tomorrow: Friday Night Lives.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.