There’s a chill in the air, but I can’t quite see my breath yet. The excitement and anticipation of what’s to come are palpable as I near the field and hear the swell of the marching band rise above the noise of the student cheering section. Clad in Charger blue, my daughters grip my hands a little tighter seeing the crowded stands. Their priceless smiles emerge the instant they see the cheerleaders and only widen with the smell of popcorn and the sound of the first strains of the national anthem.
Our family’s typical Friday evening isn’t to a college or professional football game, but our very own Champaign Centennial High School’s football games. As the wife of Centennial’s athletic trainer my love for high school sports has somewhat been thrust upon me, but in spite of that fact I sincerely believe that attending high school sporting events encourages hometown pride and community camaraderie – and my girls LOVE it.
Growing up in a small town, there was little else to do on a Friday night (or any night of the week) that didn’t involve the local high school’s sporting events. Cross-county (instead of cross-city) rivalries always brought out the biggest crowd, and local student athletes were easily recognizable around town from their pictures being features consistently in the local paper.
While I LOVE living in Chambana, and LOVE to cheer on our hometown Illini along with the rest of the city every chance I get, I must admit there is a part of me that misses the assumption that you will see everyone you know every Friday night at “the game.”
So, if you too are missing a little bit of this small town nostalgia or hometown camaraderie, I encourage you to check out some of the high school sporting events at Centennial, Central and Urbana (or other local high schools) for these reasons:
- They are SUPER kid-friendly. Most of the fans at these events are parents of the athletes, so they remember having younger children and aren’t appalled by much. In addition, the atmosphere is loud and boisterous, so it isn’t as if your child’s lack of an inside voice is going to matter that much.
- The LOW cost. Worst case scenario: you pay, you get popcorn, you sit down, and your kid has an accident or decides they are bored… you’re out less than $10 at this point … not a big deal. Go home, try again next week!
- The VARIETY of sport options. Our high schools literally have everything from bowling to lacrosse with the typical football, basketball, soccer and baseball mixed in as well. Wrestling, cheerleading, volleyball and more are also on the docket! Check out the website your high school of choice for times, tickets and locations. There is so much to choose from that your child is sure to enjoy watching one of them, and its a great way for them to see how many options there are for staying active throughout their life.
I would be remiss if I didn’t share a few tips I have also learned about bringing the kiddos along to these events:
- SCOUT the bathrooms as soon as you get there, both for location and cleanliness. (I also ALWAYS make my girls “go” at home and attempt to limit fluid intake at the event.) I’m not going to lie, teenagers are GROSS and their bathrooms reflect this, so I bring hand sanitizer and my own wipes (both flushable and not). I don’t always have to use them, but I don’t regret carrying them, just in case.
- Bring a BIG bag. For outdoor events, extra layers of clothes, sunscreen and water bottles are always handy to have. We often bring extra snacks as well, which keeps the younger one happy until the older one is ready to go.
- Find someone to ROOT for. My girls love to have someone the “know” on the court or field, it makes the event more personal. So, even if you DON’T know someone, find a player that you think the kiddos would enjoy rooting for – even if for no better reason than they like which number they wear. It gives them something to watch for, especially if they don’t totally understand the game yet.
- THINK about age-appropriate ways to explain the game/rules. The event becomes a lot more engaging and exciting when you understand what’s going on.
A few other thoughts that you might consider when choosing your first high-school sport family outing:
- Attending soccer is great for active kiddos because there is PLENTY of room to run around and not get lost in the crowd.
- Football is good for kids who want to experience A LOT (booster stands, band, cheerleading, halftime, raffles, homecoming, etc.) but can be overwhelming and result in sensory overload for those who aren’t used to so much commotion.
- Volleyball is a favorite for my girls. There is a lot of action and active girl role-models for them to look up to.
- If you haven’t been to any games, a cross-town rivalry football or basketball game might not be your best first foray into the world of high school athletics with kiddos. It would be an adventure, but you might want to test the waters with a less intense game – my two cents.
So, if are ready to take the plunge into high school athletics with kids in tow, good luck! I hope to see you there!
And let me know if there are any tips or great reasons to bring kiddos that I missed!!
Erin (Trent) Tarr made the three-hour drive from Southern Illinois to Champaign in 1997 to attend the University of Illinois and never left. Mother of two beautiful girls (2 & 5 years old), her passions for leadership and education have led her to start “Be the Benchmark” – a coaching/mentoring business for pre-teen and teen girls. She also blogs about leadership and motherhood at www.erintarr.com. You can often find her (with two kids in tow) at Champaign Centennial sporting events where her beloved husband of ten years, Adam, works as an athletic trainer.