As a rule, in small-town America, Friday night football games warrant big-time attention. Bayard, Nebraska, home of the Bayard Tigers, is no exception.
For starters, the devotion to Friday night football games flows from Bayard’s Senior Center. Many of the seniors have grandsons or great-grandsons on the team. So, the roots of discussions about the game emanate from both family pride and loyalty to Bayard.
However, eventually, the debate supports the supposition that today’s athletic prowess doesn’t compare to the era when these seniors wore the black and orange of Bayard. Come game time, though, they replace those memories with fact, and they cheer for the present-day Bayard team that’s on the field.
More Friday game banter and football traditions trickle down to Bayard’s business community. “We love the Tigers” and other supportive slogans appear on storefront windows, while a local beauty salon sells “Bayard Tiger” apparel.
At the salon, promotions for special prices on certain “do’s” disappear from its windows. Instead, orange and black artistry conveys a message that affirms a Tigers victory on Friday. As a gesture of good will, the salon donates the proceeds from the sale of any Tiger apparel to Bayard’s athletic department.
It’s evident to anyone passing through that Bayard reveres its Tigers.
From a different vantage point, Bayard students, student athletes, teachers, and coaches create their own niche on football Fridays.
The players wear replica jerseys emblazoned with their names, while cheerleaders don their distinctive outfits. The predominate color of teachers and students attire is black and orange, while some transform their faces to configure a tiger, and some even sprout tiger-tails.
Although pep rallies are not an every Friday occurrence, on homecoming, must-win games, and playoffs, they become part of the Friday football experience.
Moreover, as a sign of team solidarity, on most home game Fridays, the Tigers eat their pregame meals together.
As an aside, Bayard is in the Nebraska Panhandle where population is sparse, and the distance to an away game often means a long bus ride. Thus, the time between when they eat before they leave Bayard, to when they return is many hours. Usually, they will find no open cafes on the trip home.
For the sake of camaraderie, though, the mothers of the respective home teams fix sack lunches for the opposing team players to eat on their bus trip home. The next year, the other team’s mothers return the favor. That’s small-town Nebraska sportsmanship.
With the trend toward urbanization, small-town America faces an uncertain future. Nevertheless, where there’s love and marriage that spawns football players, pep clubs, and fans, and there’s a need for wide open spaces to produce food, small-town America football Friday’s will survive.
Besides, maybe when today’s participants are senior citizens, they will meet at Bayard’s Senior Center, dressed in orange and black, and reminisce of the glory years of Bayard football, when they were on the field.