Reynolds Royals Stadium and HSE Royals logo

Reynolds Royals Stadium, Fishers, IN

Hamilton Southeastern Royals vs. Carmel Greyhounds
IHSAA Class 6A Football Sectional Tournament Semi Final

Like most movies churned out these days, Disney's 1997 movie Remember the Titans begins with narration from one of its central characters. That character, Sheryl Yoast, introduces us to the premise of this story, stating: "In Virginia, high school football is a way of life, it's bigger than Christmas day," which immediately makes you wonder just how underwhelming Christmas must be in Virginia.

Sign outside Hamilton Southeastern High School's Royals Stadium
I know they're fond of our royal family, but this seems a little excessive.

Of course, this was back in the early 1970s when the world was much simpler. People were perfectly happy to ride separate buses and be treated like West Ham or Millwall supporters who must be kept apart at all times in society, and head injuries hadn't been invented yet. Even so, it highlights just how important sports can be to a community. Even sports played by children.

Remember the Titans tells the true story (in that wonderfully Disneyfied way where the actors are significantly older than the people they are meant to be playing) of a community in Alexandria, Virginia, brought together, reluctantly (because people don't like change), by racial integration and its high school football team, led by head coach Denzel Washington.

Entrance gate at Hamilton Southeastern High School's Royals Stadium
Yes, you might die and it won't be our fault.

Now, this isn't Virginia. This is Indiana. There is no racial segregation here (at least not legally, although this particular county is particularly upper middle class and white) and high school football isn't a way of life. This is basketball country. High school basketball is the way of life here. So my first exposure to the delightfully American tradition of high school sports might be a little diluted.

High school sports have been something that's fascinated me ever since our Religious Studies teacher decided that the best thing to do with a class full of disinterested teenagers already booked on the first train straight to hell, was to just put on Remember the Titans. In a damning indictment of the UK's secondary school curriculum, that was our R.S. class for a few weeks. Heck, I'd go to church every Sunday if the sermon was a 45 minute extract from a Disney sports movie.

Hamilton Southeastern Royals sign inside Royals Stadium
That is either the fluffiest lion you've ever seen, or an extremely pissed off lioness mounted on a shield.

It's a tradition said to be as American as apple pie (which, as it turns out, isn't actually all that American). If you want to find that little slice of America, then, look past the golden arches and no further than the high school football fields on late summer and crisp fall evenings.

It's also a tradition that couldn't be more alien to us Brits. We wouldn't think twice of taking an interest in the sporting prowess of local kids in the neighbourhood. We certainly wouldn't bother watch them play on TV. We don't even like making eye contact with them in the car parks of our local Tesco Express.

Hamilton Southeastern Royals players warm up on the field
Damn running tracks. What is this, Eastern Europe?

Yet all across pockets of the country, crowds will gather in grandstands to watch teenagers suffer undiagnosable long term head trauma for our amusement. As it takes place under floodlights on Friday nights, this tradition is perhaps better known as Friday Night Lights.

Friday Night Lights is also the name of a book inspired by Texas's rabid love for the game. For example, in some parts of the state you can find stadiums big enough to hold around 15,000 people. Just think about that for a second. A 15,000 capacity stadium on a high school campus. In the UK we're lucky if our schools get goal posts.

Hamilton Southeastern Royals player entrance
The home team felt deflated before the game had even started.

The book tells the story of a small town (pipe down, John Mellencamp) and its high school football team, following the 1988 Permian Panthers, from Odessa, as they attempt to prowl towards a much coveted state championship. It focuses on the role high school football plays within American society, in particular rural society. It needs to be seen to be believed, so it's handy that they decided to turn it into a movie.

Friday Night Lights is also the name of a highly addictive TV show inspired by the book. The show tells the story of a small town and its high school football team, following the fictional Dillon Panthers, from Dillon (still not John Mellencamp's small town. But hey, he was born in Indiana so these references definitely work), as they attempt to prowl towards a much coveted state championship. It focuses on the role high school football plays within American society, in particular rural society. It needs to be seen to be believed, so it's handy that they decided to bring the show out on DVD. And they say originality is dying in Hollywood.

Kick off in the game between Hamilton Southeastern Royals and Carmel Greyhounds
On the right of the main grandstand you'll find a large congregation of students. Or as we'd call them, ultras.

The only difference really is the TV show lasts longer, has a dope theme tune that'll get stuck in your head for the rest of time (I'm not saying there's an afterlife, but if there's something, it's going to involve the Friday Night Lights theme tune being played for all eternity as part of your torture in the bad place), and is more of a high school drama. It's basically Saved by the Bell with CTE. So if you haven't already watched it, what are you doing reading this? (I'm looking at you, dad. I lent you the DVDs years ago).

When the opportunity came up that I actually might get the chance to experience my first high school football game, I absolutely jumped at the chance. I was warned beforehand that the reality of the game might differ greatly from my experiences watching the exploits of Coach Taylor, Messrs Riggins, Saracen, Street and, ugh, you too discount Matt Damon Landry. But you'll never know until you try it, eh?

A sunset over Reynolds Royals Stadium, Fishers, IN
The sun sets on Hamilton Southeastern's state championship hopes almost immediately.

I probably should have expected this to be the case. After all, would you go and watch your secondary school play football? No. No you wouldn't. And if you did, then you should take a long, hard look at yourself in the mirror and decide to do something more with your life than just going to watch any sports you can and then blogging about it. Oh.

Somewhat going against tradition, this was not a crisp fall night. It was freezing. I've stood out in the chill watching non league football, or to be more specific, watching the grass start to frost over whilst 22 grown men kick a hardening bag of wind around it. But this was something different. For starters, the game lasts twice as long, so that's twice as long for your feet to freeze.

A view towards the away bleachers at Reynolds Royals Stadium, Fishers, IN
The stands appear full until you look at the size of the teams. There are a lot of parents to fit in.

Still, it wasn't anything like anything I've ever seen or experienced before. Arriving at Hamilton Southeastern High School was a far cry from Waingels College. There was a car park. There was even tailgating. This may not have been Texas, but I was still experiencing the most American tradition of all, middle aged white men drinking beer in a high school parking lot. The American Dream.

Hamilton Southeastern's nonsensically named Reynolds Royals Stadium @ TCU Field (hey, high schools can sell naming rights too, ya know?) might have been on the smaller scale of high school football stadiums, but it wouldn't look out of place in non league football. If anything, the facilities are better. There are concession stands, working toilets and everything. You even get a proper ticket at the gate. We don't even get these at Maidenhead, but I'm thankful that we also don't get marching bands.

Hamilton Southeastern High School's marching band performs a half time show
Half time brings the traditional marching band to centre stage...and a mock same sex wedding? What the hell is going on here?

Not to be outdone by their professional counterparts, they have an inflatable helmet for the home team players to make their grand entrance onto the field. They sure do love pageantry in this country and it's a nice idea in theory, until the thing deflates after the first few players emerge. If that's not foreshadowing for how the game would go, then I don't know what is.

There's a chance I could be witnessing future NFL stars here. A look down the teamsheet and one familiar name leaps out, A.J. Vinatieri, son of Colts kicker Adam who I trashed in my last post (thankfully nobody reads this so I'm in no danger of retribution).

Carmel Greyhounds on offense against Hamilton Southeastern Royals
“Stop, stop! He's already dead!”

But most likely we're just witnessing the last chance for the bigger kids who went through puberty before their age reached double figures one last chance to exert their physical dominance over their late blooming counterparts, before heading off for a career in the army. But it's not all bad, they'll still get to board an aeroplane before me.

The game is a blowout, and with the feeling in my toes long lost to the weather, I'm off to Culver's. Hello butter burger and cheese curds, goodbye frozen tundra, cold bleachers and my first experience of high school football. As Coach Taylor would say: "Clear eyes, full hearts. can't lose." Unless you're Hamilton Southeastern.

Useless information about Reynolds Royals Stadium

Address: Hamilton Southeastern High School, 13910 East 126th Street, Fishers, Indiana, 46037
Capacity: 4,500
Pitch Type: Artificial
Ticket Price: $6
Program: Free, 4 pages
Cheapest Pint: Ummm, you can't drink alcohol on school property, you maniac

Hamilton Southeastern Royals football ticket from 2019/20 season

2019 IHSAA Class 6A Football Sectional Tournament program for Hamilton Southeastern Royals vs. Carmel Greyhounds