Friday Night Lights for Real

Despite the political climate, a Houston-area suburb voted to build a $58 million high-school football stadium.

Updated 11/11/2014

The only thing bigger than high-school football in Texas is the caricature of high-school football in Texas that persists everywhere else. And so, as the dust settles from an election that featured ballot measures to bar Sharia law in Alabama and permit the use of sugary bait to hunt bears in Maine, it should come as little surprise that voters in the southeast corner of the Lone Star State decided to splurge on a $58 million high-school football stadium.

Part of a massive $748 million bond, the new stadium in Katy, Texas, is actually a scaled-down version of a previous stadium plan. Last year, the same voters rejected a proposal in which a new stadium comprised the lion's share ($69.5 million) of a $99 million bond. You're not reading that wrong. A $70 million high-school football stadium. The approved, slightly more modest stadium will seat 12,000 people instead of 14,000 for about $12 million less.

As a former benchwarmer on a junior varsity team player of high-school football in Texas, I feel inclined to explain how something like this happens and simultaneously shake my head at it. Fortunately, the facts allow me to do both.

It's impossible to remark on this story without drawing attention to the infamous case of Eagle Stadium in Allen, Texas, the 18,000-seat behemoth, which was built just north of Dallas in 2012. As ESPN noted, when the $60 million stadium opened it featured "a high-definition video board, a second deck on one sideline and vendor stands hawking Chick-fil-A and Texas barbecue." The stadium made national headlines especially when held in contrast to the ongoing American recession and the ambient slashing of school budgets.

Earlier this year, after just two seasons, Eagle Stadium was condemned after "extensive cracking" was discovered in the concrete. As the Dallas Morning News reported, a more thorough investigation later revealed deeper issues with "retaining walls, concourse framing, press box support columns, press box structure, single-story structures, main scoreboard and durability of the structure."

Here's where it gets interesting: The state champion Eagles also never lost a game in two years at their palatial stadium. While the team is being forced to play this entire season on the road, the Allen Eagles are still undefeated, having won all ten games this season after crushing a dismal Plano East team on Friday.

In other words, football is still football. The same year that Eagle Stadium debuted, the Houston Independent School District shelled out half a million dollars to build massive mega-screens in two high-school stadiums. According to Channel 2 Houston, the two scoreboards aren't as big as the one in Eagle Stadium or the even-bigger one in the (aptly named) town of Carthage, Texas, which cost $750,000 to build. But the Jumbotron is no longer just for the big leagues.

Of course, Katy's football team, which, along with the six other schools in the district, will be the beneficiary of a sweet new mega-screen in its brand new stadium, is no slouch either when it comes to playing ball. The team has been to the state championship game five of the past seven years, winning the title three times.

While winning seems to be enough to trump a political climate that somewhat recently fell under the sway of the thrifty Tea Party, not everyone was thrilled about the bond that delivered a new stadium. While it passed with 55 percent of the vote, a spirited campaign to separate Eagle Stadium from the bond was waged, including the placing of signs outside the Second Baptist mega church that read "Second Saves Souls Not Stadiums."

Meanwhile, according to the Houston Chronicle, support for the bond wasn't limited to Katy, drawing "campaign contributions from builders and architects as far away as Pennsylvania." Not that anyone is thinking about that now, with the next Friday's kick-off days away and the playoffs starting soon.