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October 1, 2014

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Ron Kantowski on what a difference 30 years can make in high school football, and what will never change

As I walked toward the sound of the marching band at Friday's Western vs. Green Valley High football game, I noticed long lines forming at the entrance gates. It looked like the local Ticketmaster 15 minutes before Stones tickets go on sale, and everybody had wristbands with single-digit numbers.

Wow, I thought. Prep football is alive and well.

Nothing I would witness over the next 2 1/2 hours would lead me to believe otherwise. But those long line lines weren't fans waiting to purchase tickets. They were fans waiting to be checked by a metal detector.

When it was my turn to be scanned, the wand lit up and starting making crazy noises. I thought I had won the $20,000 Pyramid. Which is what I told the security guard.

He wasn't nearly as old as me but he must be a big fan of the Game Show Network, because he chuckled.

"Cell phone?" he asked.

"Cell phone." I answered.

He nodded and waved me through.

Metal detectors and cell phones. Going to a high school football game sure has changed since 1975, I thought.

Just then, a girl with short, short shorts and red platform sandals with straps that wrap around, walked past me adjusting the volume of her iPod.

Although I can't be certain, I would have bet my old letterman's sweater that she wasn't listening to the Green Valley fight song.

Speaking of lettermen sweaters. I didn't notice any. It might have been because if was still 91 degrees at kickoff. Or it might have been because they have become more pass than Bachman Turner Overdrive, which was playing on the radio the last time I sat in the stands at a high school football game.

I also noticed the girlfriends of the Green Valley players looked a lot older than I remembered our girlfriends looking in high school. And that their moms looked a lot younger.

The concession stand also has changed. For starters, it's as big as the mess hall at Camp Pendleton. And there weren't any math teachers with pocket protectors filling cardboard boxes with stale popcorn left over from the British Invasion.

The menu was extensive, too. When I was in high school, your choices were limited to: hot dog, popcorn, soda (always served in a tiny wax cup). By the time I finished reading the menu, the first quarter had ended.

I finally settled on something called a Chilly Billy. I had no clue what a Chilly Billy was, but it was still hot and it sounded cool. It wasn't cool. It was chili and cheese and jalapeno peppers and chips. Forget about a blue-gray October sky. The Four Horsemen of a gastronomical nightmare were suddenly outlined on my large intestine.

Just before halftime, I also learned that the boys' room is no longer where the guys from shop class go to smoke.

The best part of a high school football game is listening to the marching band at halftime. Green Valley's was pretty good. But they don't wear big, fuzzy hats anymore, the kind that made the tuba players at my school look like Cossacks during the Ottoman Empire.

The Green Valley band wore shorts and T-shirts. The brass and woodwind sections were built like athletes. Even the tuba players were thin. And there were more instruments than the flight deck of a DC-10.

The Gators literally rolled out timpani, vibraphones and a gong. Yes, a gong. I kept looking over my shoulder for Jaye P. Morgan.

After a rousing rendition of Rick James' "Super Freak," the players tried to take the field, and the marching band agreed to yield - albeit gradually. It had to be a pain in the neck lugging the timpani, vibraphones and gong back to the band room.

Now I know why the Green Valley tuba players are thin.

Green Valley and Western played a pretty good game. The Gators kept trying to throw the ball into the end zone, where the Warriors kept intercepting it. So it was 19-12 when, with time running out, Western drove the length of the field behind the passing arm of James Smith, its gutty little quarterback.

Smith threw a touchdown pass that made it 19-18. But his wide receiver drew a flag for showing off in front of the girl with the short, short shorts and the red platform sandals with the straps that wrap around. Not that the Warriors would have made the extra point kick anyway, because kicking extra points, as I discovered Friday, is still as difficult as the mid-term test in advanced algebra class.

The Warriors missed on a two-point attempt that originated somewhere near Summerlin. The dads of the Western players stood along the fence in front of the stands and yelled at the officials.

Afterward, the Green Valley coaches met for a burger and a cold beverage at the local bar and grill. They slapped each other on the back and convinced themselves that Disco Tech - or whomever they're going to play next - week doesn't stand a chance.

And so I slid out the door and popped "The Best of BTO" into the 8-track deck, comfortable in knowing that although the helmets and the concession stand hot dogs are no longer made of leather, high school football is still alive. Still well. And still pretty much the same as it ever was.

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