OUR OPINION: High school football nears its coveted championships

The sweltering two-a-days in August offered few hints of the rewards that might be waiting in a frigid season’s end, but six high school football teams from Northeast Mississippi will play Friday night for north state championships in five of the six enrollment categories, one win away from the statewide championship round in Jackson Dec. 6-7.

Two Northeast Mississippi teams – Baldwyn and Calhoun City – face one another in the Class 2A North championship in Baldwyn.

Only Class 3A does not have a Northeast Mississippi team playing to go to Jackson.

All the teams playing Friday night have proven their mettle, and this penultimate competition deserves an outpouring of support from the communities they represent: Tupelo (6A), Oxford (5A), Lafayette (4A), Baldwyn (2A), Calhoun City (2A) and Smithville (1A).

High school football is a perennially popular Southern ritual, long predating the extra celebrity created for it in H.G. Bissinger’s now classic “Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream,” a 1990 non-fiction book. A movie and a television series followed.

The west Texas rivalry Bissinger wrote about is no more intense and storied that some of the oldest and most intense rivalries in Mississippi high school football.

Among Friday night’s contenders for the north half title from Northeast Mississippi, Smithville, Baldwyn, Calhoun City and Tupelo have won previous state championships.

The teams in the championship series all have strong followings, but Friday night’s games are the prelude to the ultimate game for every high school player: state championships.

Playoffs by enrollment divisions in football came relatively late to Mississippi because a statewide system of conferences (Big 8, Little 10, Tombigbee, Delta Valley and many others) grouped high schools together geographically for the most part, with the exception of the Big 8, which had larger-school members (more than two dozen in later years) from the Gulf Coast to the Tennessee state line. The Big 8 champion often was called the state champion, but it was not official.

The enrollment classification system, interestingly often pits former Big 8 schools against high schools that once were members of smaller-school conferences, and the outcomes are thoroughly unpredictable.

Fans of the contending schools in Friday night’s games are important to the players and their communities. We hope the stadiums are packed in support of the schools, players, coaches, bands, parents and others who have followed through from those first, hot August days.