The teams are almost ready. The cheerleaders are almost ready. The bands are almost ready.
The fans, well, they’ve been ready since the end of last season.
High school football returns Friday night, and none too soon for a world weary of all that divides us in South Carolina and America – from race problems and police relations, to potholes and politicians too dumb to turn off the water when they finish taking a shower.
On Friday night, we are united.
But one voice of unity for so long will be muted Friday. There will be no man hollerin’ into the starry night: “That fleet-a-foot fast back done broke through them linebackers like a parolee through the prison doors!”
Carlisle Roddey – the voice of the Chester Cyclones since 1970, possibly the longest serving radio voice in South Carolina – is on the disabled list.
“Hospital,” Roddey said. “I’m sick with this foot, but I’m sick just thinkin’ about missin’ that ballgame on Friday night.”
Roddey, 78, has an infected foot and is back in the care of doctors. It is the other foot than the one that kept him away from four of Chester’s games last year – the first he missed in 46 years. During those games last year, Roddey would get so worked up that he would call in to WRBK-FM to be patched in to the radio booth and start talking.
The past year has been a tough one for Roddey, who was a Chester County supervisor for almost four decades before losing the seat last year. He went through 60 days of special oxygen therapy recently, too.
“You get old, and it gets tougher,” Roddey said, “but you think about that Friday night football game – where all those young people do their best and make us so happy to watch them all on the field playing – and it makes you feel better.”
Roddey expects to be back in the booth for the Cyclones’ second game on Aug. 26. His longtime peers will call Friday’s game.
Other games around the region – including the huge Northwestern vs. South Pointe rivalry in Rock Hill – will thrill thousands of fans.
“The high school football game anywhere brings people together,” Roddey said. “It shows we are a lot more alike than we are different.
Kinda like life should be, said Roddey, who knows.
High school football is the one place where it is assured there is no division in the stands. The fans of all colors root for the players of all colors. The rich kids and the kids from houses where the windows are plastic all wear the same uniform, sweat, stink and try their best.
The players hold hands before the kickoff, and the fans high-five and hug each other in the stands. It is beauty, a single thing untarnished and unblemished and unsullied by the world that is not always so together.
There is no other place that is so integrated by race and class and religion and purpose as a high school football game in South Carolina. For two hours, we all get along.
And those rooting for the same teams – yes, right then and there under those lights and on those hard benches as the band plays and cheerleaders leap and players collide and ribs are bruised – we do something we should do more often.
We love each other.