Prep Rally | Small stadiums suit high school football

October 11, 2013 

Football is all about going big.

We like guys with big-play potential. We like big bodies in the trenches.

We like big games that draw big crowds and bring in big money.

But size has its limits, especially when it comes to putting something so cozy and small -- high school football -- into college stadiums.

I have no problems with teams crossing state lines to play games. If you can afford it, do it.

What I don't like is when they put those games into large venues, such as when Manatee opened the season against Gilman at Byrd Stadium on the campus of the University of Maryland.

There was a decent crowd there. Manatee fans traveled well, and it was pretty much a home game for Gilman, a public charter school based in Baltimore.

But Byrd Stadium seats nearly 52,000 people, so the place felt empty. And it looked empty, considering seating was limited to just one side of the stadium.

I understand why Manatee wanted to play there. The Hurricanes have their eye on another December trip to the Florida Citrus Bowl, home of the state football finals. There is no better way to prepare for playing in a big stadium than, well, playing in a big stadium.

But high school football is all about 7,000 people squeezing into a small field nestled in a neighborhood. It's about human rings forming around chain-link fences. It's about people getting there two hours before kickoff so they can guarantee themselves a ticket.

During Manatee's last trip to Maryland in 2011, the Hurricanes played Our Lady of Good Counsel at its home field, and the place was electric.

The previous year, the Hurricane went to western Pennsylvania and played in The Wolvarena, a 12,000-seat marvel surrounded by hills and row homes. That's high school football.

The way the fans emptied the bleachers and rushed the field after Manatee stunned Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas in a Class 5A state semifinal at Hawkins Stadium, that's high football.

The year I had to email a story from the passenger seat of my car because Southeast's parking lot was jammed following the Seminoles' game with Manatee, that's high school football.

State vs. state is a lot of fun, and plane rides and hotel stays teach kids there is a world out there outside of their hometown.

Just leave those bigger stadiums to those bigger guys for now. The prep players will get there eventually. Sometimes, it pays to stay small.

John Lembo, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7057. Followhim on Twitter at@JohnLembo1878.

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