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During high school, football season was my favorite part of the year. The Friday night lights were the highlight of every week and it was during my senior year that my passion for football reporting was born. During my final semester of high school, I spent the majority of my time as an athletic intern, coordinating volunteers for tickets and helping the booster club set up concessions. I also sat on the sidelines as a sports reporter for the club’s weekly magazine.  

Each week I would spend roughly two hours looking up the opposing team and trying to learn about their star players. Then the day of the game, I would put on my black and orange gear and hit the sidelines with the local media outlets and photographers. With the exception of a student photographer, we were the only high school students on the field covering the games. I spent most of them learning to count stats with the MaxPreps guys as they walked up and down the sidelines, sharing with the team where they were in terms of personal records in yardage.

It was the state championship game. We were at University of Arizona and it was our second state championship appearance in the last four years. I remember the pure joy that came from the sidelines when we won. After traveling with a team for four months, I was on the sidelines with them celebrating the most exciting day of their high school career.

I used to count down the days until graduation, but something changed senior year—during football season it seemed like time paused, even if it was just for four hours.

It was on those sidelines with my stinky classmates that my passion for sports reporting was born. If it weren’t for that single season of high school football, I don’t think I would have been able to confidently walk into my undergraduate career knowing I wanted to cover sports.

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I spent my freshman and sophomore years at Northern Arizona University at Coconino and Flagstaff High School football games as a member of KJACK Radio. A fellow KJACK member and I would broadcast the games to the Flagstaff crowd, a cool concept that, although I wasn’t a high school student in my hometown, allowed me to feel a sense of community. Reporting here in Flagstaff has given me something my hometown never could: In-town rivalries.

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When you’re at a Coconino versus Flagstaff High School football game, there’s nothing like it. Parents, grandparents, alumni and students fill the stands. The people who gather are loud and decked out in red, black, yellow and green. Everyone knows the fight song; everyone knows the players on both teams. The two school bands are outplaying each other just as the players on the field are trying to do. It’s very surreal. This is something you get to experience once a year, every year, and it’s that time of year again.

Just two weeks ago, NAU had its annual Running of the Freshman season opener. The team won 37-23 against Missouri State University. I had never, in my three years at NAU, seen the Walkup Skydome so full. About 6,891 people were in attendance.

Often football is seen as a sport that has fans who are there for the sole purpose of belonging to a team and getting trashed while watching it. Sure, those fans are out there; they are loud, obnoxious, disruptive and crave attention. But there are also fans who are there for the communal purposes. They know the players, they know the game, they are connected to the game. There are towns like ours where fans are invested. They’ve watched some player at the high school level since they were in little league. Those are my kind of fans. What kind of fan will you be this season?

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Bailey Helton is the editor-in-chief at The Lumberjack, Northern Arizona University's student newspaper. College Chronicles aims to connect Flag Live! readers to various aspects of campus life.

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