“High school football is community,” Joe Nick Patoski told the audience at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum’s Spirit of Texas Theater. “It is the state religion, for all practical purposes.”
The canon of that religion is an exhibit in the museum’s Stephen F. Austin room, “Fridays in Focus.”
Patoski, a veteran Texas Monthly magazine writer and author of several books, recalled approaching Bill Kennedy in 2010 about having him shoot high school football game images for an upcoming exhibit. In turn Kennedy suggested using several of his St. Edward’s University photocommunications students for the project.
The finished pictures showed different layers and different styles. The group of eight sacrificed many weekends tell the story about teenagers, their parents, and their passions to make every game a memorable event for their schools.
Rebecca Kinnison saw Shockley Stadium as the field of battle the Johnson City high school team would be charged to defend in “LBJ Eagles.” An image of high quality, a la Jeff Wilson’s recently released photo book, Home Field.
Several, like Fredericksburg’s Megan Russell, focused on the pagentry of the game. Returning to her hometown, some of the fruits of her labor include the dream-like Erie Calm Before Halftime Show, as well as the creative Black Light Pep Rally. The work of Allison Crain of San Antonio approached the climax of a move, whether it was the silhouette of a cheerleader doing a leg kick high above her mates in Summer Scale, or the Madison Dollies drill team concluding a group split leg move before rolling into the next sequence.
As the fans go to cheer their hometown heroes, Houston’s Hill Taylor White found a symbiosis in the near-abandoned main street of Giddings Flags.
The game, of course, is the thing that draws the crowds. Florida native Gabriel Helio Sanchez visited his father’s alma mater in Lockhart, focusing his negative camera on anxious Lions players waiting to spring into action if their name is called. “Grain is the most beautiful part of photography,” Sanchez said.
He also shows the effects of the fierce seasonal battle: Concussion sees a team official talking to a Lions player, the right side of his face seemingly swollen from a hard hit.
“Lockhart is football-barbecue and football,” Sanchez added. When asked if he witnessed the town’s favorite meats consumed in the stands he observed, “Barbecue was definitely in everybody’s bellies.”
Crain’s image of the Sanderson Eagles six-man team lining up, side-by-side, and saluting the crowd post-game in District Champions, would make for the perfect thematic conclusion.
Other participating photographers include Briley Dockery (Holy Cross Mustangs), Megan Ewert (In the Stands) and Christian Ryan Criswell (Tips, Play Things).
In his artist’s statement Criswell called the assignment “more about the experience than the actual game.”
Patoski, curator of the museum’s exhibit “Texas High School Football: More Than The Game,” which also included photos from the students, expressed his pride in the young photographers: “I knew they could do it. They exceeded all expectations.”
Focus on Fridays will be shown now through October 5th at the third floor Stephen F. Austin Room at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, 1800 North Congress Avenue in Austin. It is one of several companion exhibits scheduled in conjunction with “Texas High School Football: More Than The Game.” For more information call (512) 936-4649 or toll-free (866) 369-7108, or go to TheStoryofTexas.com.