Friday Night Lights, by H.G Bissnger is a great book / DVD for high school students. I teach a “Sports in Society” senior elective course in which we use this film to analyze the role of high school sports in our society.
Permian football is at the very extreme end of the spectrum of high school sports in America. In this community, amazingly, the football coach is paid more than the high school principal. Despite the fact that very few communities value athletics over academics, the themes presented in the book and the film can be applied to most high schools and student-athletes in America.
Many teachers and professors across the county use this book as part of their curriculum. Before you decide if this would fit your curriculum, see what high school teachers and college professors are saying nationwide about Friday Night Lights.
I have been using this unit with my “Sports in Society” class for the past several years. Each year, I try to improve the instruction and to strengthen the connection the student’s personal experiences. Hopefully, some of the ideas presented here are helpful to you and your students.
1. High School Discussion Questions. As an introductory activity to the high school sports unit, the students respond to a set of questions relating to their experiences involving high school athletics. (For students who have not participated in high school sports, the questions can be adapted to experiences with music, band, drama, or work.) Most of the students will be able to answer the majority of the questions.
After the students complete the questions (15 – 20 minutes), we have a class discussion. At the end of the period, the students hand in the questions to be graded based on effort.
High School Questions
1. List the high school teams you have played on and the level.
2. List 10 high school sports memories as a fan (when you were younger) and player. (Later: select one memory and write detailed account of the event.)
3. In order of importance, list the 3 most important characteristics of a high school sports leader? Explain each.
4. Many coaches believe that if your best player is your hardest worker, good things happen. For each of the sports you played, list the 3 hardest workers on your team. Then for the other years (9th, 10th, 11th) list the one person in each sport you played that you ADMIRED because of their work ethic. (Circle the player if he/she was the most talented.)
5. Captains – Use the back. Answer all that apply. (Leadership Questions)
a. If you were a captain, evaluate yourself as a leader. What were your strengths? What were areas where you could have done better?
b. Who have been the 2 best captains you have been associated with? Explain what made them so good. For each person, explain what characteristics you valued.
6. 2 of the 3 sports season are complete. Looking back on your career, evaluate your work ethic, personal growth, and life lessons that were a result of your participation in high school athletics.
There also are some additional “Friday Night Lights” discussion questions from a great website for teaching the book / DVD.
2. Watch the DVD. In the past, I have created an information worksheet to accompany the viewing of a movie or documentary. I no longer find this useful because students are more concerned answering the questions than grasping the main themes of the movie. Recently, I have stopped the film after a segment. Students are given a writing prompt to answer. The writing prompts can be presented orally or you can type them up.
3. Post DVD Handout – When showing a movie, I always find it useful to sit at the back of the class. This position is great to make sure the students are engaged. It also allows me to update and revise lessons. This past year, I typed up the following themes to hand out at the end of the movie for discussion. It is a first draft, so I am sure to revise it in the future. (Please be forgiving.)
Friday Night Themes, Writing Prompts, Discussion Points
- “We are not going to win state tonight.” – Going to party during the season or after a gam. Some coaches say more games are won and lost off the field than are on the field. An MIAA violation / suspension is devastating to a team.
- “Hold on to the football.” – Parental pressure can be enormous for some high school athletes. At what point does a parent cross the line?
- “Hey, Boobie, you didn’t lift.” The best player not working as hard as the others. “Come on! This is God’s gift. All I need to do is show up!” Do the best players get special treatment? Are they / should they be exempt from team rules?
- “The recruiting process , we are interested. Do you like football? Is it fun for you? It is supposed to be fun you know!” Should college athletics be fun? Do you know college student-athletes? Describe their experiences.
- “Boobie injuries his knee.” One play can change everything. Radio – “Why did Coach Gaines have him in there.”
- “A football team is not about one player. The football team is about the team.” Describe the importance of team chemistry.
- “For Sale Signs” after 1st loss of the season. The pressure of a coach to win by the community.
- “If you came home, it might help out a little. “ The pressure of balancing “life” (school, family, work) with extra-curricular activities.
- “The World isn’t fair, sometimes you get the short-end and that’s all your gonna get.” Coach Gaines “My mind’s not right.” Winchell “You have to accept the fact that people have to take care of themselves. If choose to accept that you are seriously gonna fly son.” Coach The importance of mental mindset of participating in sports. The need for a coach to speak one-on-one with players to understand what is going on in their lives. Mike Winchell’s mom and Billingsley’s relationship with his dad are definitely a factor in these players’ performances.
- “3rd string running back steps up with injury.” The reality that back-up players need to be ready to step in to compete.
- “Teams respond to adversity”
- Billingsley – sits on the bench for unsportsmanlike behavior.
- Coming back from an injury
- “Winchell crying after losing the game”
- “Tie-breaker coin toss to determine who gets into the playoffs.”
- The car ride home. “You did not learn football and I take that personally…I was supposed to make a man out of you. Throws the state championship ring out the window.”
- “There ain’t much different between winning and losing, except the way the outside world treats us. The only curses are the ones that are self-imposed. All of us did our own holes.
- “Tie-breaker – there is no good way to break a tie… shoot-outs (soccer hockey), coin toss, youth hockey / soccer / lax tournaments goal differential, goals for, goals against
- “You have one stinking year to make yourself some memories.”
- “I can’t do nothing else but play football.” Careers are over at some point and there needs to be more to life than a sport.
- The excitement of state tournaments.
- “Are we gonna move again?” What about Alaska… there not as serious about their football up there.?”
- What do you think? Coach to Ivory
- Half-time speeches adjustments – Ivory stepping up and being vocal.
- Coach halftime speech
- 50/50 calls – going for against
- Toughing it out – Billingsley = playing hard and playing hurt.
- Losing a hard fought game to a quality opponent that ends a season.
- Winning approval of those you seek it from (Billingsley and his dad – state ring)
- Depth chart – moving on to another year, team, and set of starters, players.
- Life Lessons – “Stay low and keep your feet moving.” “Be perfect”
- Passing the torch – literally and figuratively. Leaving a legacy and moving forward.
5. Read H.G. Bissinger’s ADDRESS to the National Association of Independent Schools [March 1, 2001] Since my class is a senior elective, with a wide range of student ability levels and limited time, we do not read the book. This letter is an awesome primary source that incorporates reading into the unit. Depending on your teaching style and students, you could read quietly, read as a class, or assign for homework.
6. Epilogue This is a supplemental activity that you can decide to use if interested. I choose to read from the book to the class (pages 339 – 355). I read sections of the epilogue to the class. You can highlight the sections you read. In the past, I have photocopied the section to distribute to the students. Currently, reading the sections to the class has proved very effective.
7. Final Reflection. Below are some writing prompts from the movie and the address. You can personalized to fit our school or you can change to fit the needs of your students.
1. The Community – “A remarkable tale about school sports and the ways in which it shapes us and informs us and molds us, the awesome way in which it can bring a community together, and yet at the same time, split it apart.
Is there anything more powerful than sports?”
Explain the role of sports in a community. Explain how “Your School” sports brings the community together or splits it apart. Reflect about the different types of people – little kids (you can comment when you were in this group), high school fans, adults, parents, etc). Do “Your School” sports bring the community together – explain.
Comment on any of the below themes:
- Attitudes about education.
- Fathers and mothers living through their sons.
- The institutionalized inferiority of daughters.
- The power of hope, the spellbinding brilliance of it as well as the danger of it.
- The need to believe in something, to cling to something, even if the ends could never justify the means.
2. The Priorities – “I saw the way in which kids, high school kids, were being sacrificed in the name and hope of going to state. – the way in which one of them was called a nigger because he could no longer perform on the football field. I saw the way in which educating these boys, because they were still boys, of preparing them for life after football, was considered as little more than an afterthought. Warped priorities in which more money was spent on athletic tape than on English books.”
How important should athletics be in a high school? What is the emphasis of “Your School” on athletics? Is enough money spent on athletics? Should we spend more or less? Do we have healthy balance? Explain in detail.
3. The Athletic Culture. – “It is a culture that exists everywhere, including your own schools I’m willing to bet. To deny the presence of it would be dishonest. And in ten minutes, we could come up with a list a hundred feet long of all that is wrong with it, because there is so much wrong with it, the way in which works against the very theme of this conference—equity and justice, an atmosphere in which students, all students, walk freely and proudly in the comfort of their own identity whatever that identity is.”
Describe “Your School’s” athletic culture – what is it like? Is there special treatment for athletes? Are there some athletes / sports that get extra special treatment? Is the “athletic culture” something that benefits the school?
4. The Education of an Athlete – “The idea of supplying him with an education was an afterthought, incidental to the experience of being a football star, a high school football star. That was his role, his reason to be.
I saw what happened to him when he was no longer a football star, the scorn they heaped upon him, the racist abuse.
I wonder what would have become of Boobie if someone, someone at that school, would have given him the minimum he was entitled to, which was an education.”
Comment on the above selection. Is a school at fault for not educating the student-athletes? Should school expect more from their star athletes instead of looking away? Are athletes used?
I would love feedback and would be glad to email the documents that I use with this unit. If you are interested, please email me– email@example.com.