One of my favorite television shows of all time is Friday Night Lights.
I know – how cliché for a small town newspaper writer to love a show that centers around high school football and the small town that supports it.
Now the television show isn’t as good as the movie, and the movie isn’t as good as the book. But what the long-format series – which dazzled critics for five seasons but never gained enough of a network following to make it a smash hit – does that’s better than the other two is dive into the politics and principles that make the craze around Friday Nights seem understandable.
And right now, some of those same politics and allegiances that were portrayed so well in the series are coming to play right now in the City of Manteca.
No, we don’t have multi-million dollar stadiums or boosters donating money to the school board for a Jumbotron that would be better suited towards educating the children. But the fictional town of Dillon, Texas – which is modeled after the real-life community of Odessa, Texas, home of the Permian High School Panthers – has the opportunity to shine as a true Anywhere, USA.
The last season of the series, head coach Eric Taylor gets deposed from the Dillon Panthers to establish a football program on the other side of town. The Panthers are the school with all of the tradition and all of the support, and while they smash the East Dillon Lions when they play each other that season, the Lions manage to get to the state championship and win the Texas glory and the ring that comes with it.
How does that have anything to do with Manteca?
Well, there have been rumblings around town from the school that carries the city’s namesake in its title that the Sierra High School football program doesn’t deserve its shot at a CIF Division IV-A championship this weekend because of how the team finished at the end of the season.
In some instances the rumblings have become even more that just murmurs and whispers – popping up in Facebook messages and tweets that seemed to pick up speed as Sierra inched closer to being the first football from Manteca to win a Nor-Cal championship and earn a berth at the highest level.
There’s no doubt that Sierra got the luckiest of breaks when it comes to dropping down to Division IV this season based on enrollment, but it’s not like the administration pulled strings to somehow turn kids away in order to make sure that happened.
It also speaks to how the Valley Oak League – which sent more than half of its teams to the CIF Sac-Joaquin playoffs – has emerged as a powerful football force in the last several years. At least three of those teams – Central Catholic, Oakdale and Manteca – were ranked in the Top 10 of Division III programs in the State of California at one point this season. Sierra got blown out by all three of them.
Nobody is disputing that.
Nobody is trying to say that Sierra High School, who finished with a 5-5 record, is better than any of those teams.
But right now they’re one of the two best Division IV teams in the State of California.
That can’t be denied. And conspiracy theories about how the Timberwolves (for the sake of full-disclosure, my Alma Mater) somehow rigged the deck so that they wouldn’t have to face the murderer’s row of Division III teams are ludicrous at best.
Let us not forget what high school football actually is – a group of kids that are playing a game for no reason other than to enjoy it in its purest form. These are kids. Say what you will about Sierra getting a lucky break in order to make this dream possible all you want, but don’t denigrate the contributions of a group of young men who are trying to do something that no other team in the city has ever done.
And that’s what Friday Night Lights showed in that final season. A group of boys who rose to overcome insurmountable odds while the behemoth of a program across town stood by and watched – sometimes even cheered – their intracity rivals to pull off the impossible feat.
If every sports fan loves a good underdog story, then why isn’t the Sierra program getting lauded for peaking at the right and making the best of out their lucky situation?
Today a Manteca Police Department escort will lead the Sierra High School Timberwolves out of town on their way to Chowchilla to do the unthinkable.
Hopefully a lot of other people will be close behind to support a group of Manteca kids regardless of their affiliation or allegiances to other schools.
It’s just a shame that there will be a small faction of people rooting for them to fail at the same time.
That’s not what high school sports are supposed to be all about.
Good luck Timberwolves. Nobody gave you a chance to get where you are today and I hope that you use that to fire yourselves through a Chowchilla team.
Nothing would warm my heart more than to see “Manteca – Home of the 2015 CIF Division IV Football State Champion Sierra Timberwolves” signs perched on the edge of town on when I come to work every day.
Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.
Make it happen.