LaGRANGE, Ga. — It’s more than two teams playing another game. It’s Friday night football in LaGrange.
Under the bright lights of Callaway Stadium, Friday night football is something special. It’s a potent mix of excitement, energy, history and heritage.
Tonight is the culmination of all the season-long hype with crosstown rivals Troup County High School and LaGrange High School battling it out in front of what is expected to be a packed stadium. At capacity, the stadium holds about 6,000 people — more than a fifth of the population of LaGrange.
The ties to football and school spirit run deep in the small community. At Troup, administrators said the school is seeing a resurgence of school pride. At LaGrange, the intense crowd includes multiple generations of Granger football fans.
“This town lives for Granger football,” said Claire Bradfield, LaGrange High PTO president.
Bradfield, who has two children at the high school, said the town rallies around the team and even plans major events around games. In a larger city, she said, there might be many Friday night activities to choose from, but in LaGrange there’s football.
For Bradfield and her family, football is special — not because it’s the only game in town, but because it’s a tradition rooted in the school’s pride and spirit. The high school is home to students who come from generation after generation of Grangers.
Bradfield’s daughter, Sara Kate Bradfield, said she grew up on Granger football and was eager to attend the school and be part of the culture.
“You grew up and you look forward to that,” Sara Kate said.
At LaGrange, students have been gearing up all week through various school spirit activities. The Blue Crew, a student group that organizes tailgating and trips to away games, is instrumental in working fans up into a frenzy.
As a result, Sara Kate said everyone attends the games.
“We’re all such close friends. We’re not going to watch a group of strangers,” Sara Kate said. “As soon as the game is over we’re talking about next Friday.”
A community affair
Tonight’s game between the two Troup County rivals marks the last game of the season.
No matter what team fans are rooting for, officials said the matchup is for the whole community.
Troup County High football coach Bubba Jeter, who played for the school, said tonight’s game is high school football at its best. The last time Troup won against LaGrange was 2003, and everyone from Grangers to Tigers are hyped.
“It’s just a big football town. It has been for years,” Jeter said. “It brings this town together.”
Jeter explained that in the 1970s the rivalry between the schools was so powerful fights erupted at the games and the two teams later took a hiatus from each other.
From about 1973 to 1992, the two didn’t play each other.
The matchup was renewed in 1992 — with a Troup win — and has been a focal point of the football season since.
“The unique thing about this rivalry is so many families are split,” Jeter said.
When boundary lines were redrawn in the 1990s some LaGrange students were bumped over to the Troup zone. Jeter, whose family moved when he was a youngster, is familiar with the heartache of switching teams. The pride at each school runs deep.
“I grew up pulling for LaGrange,” he said, adding that when his parents announced the move he cried.
But after playing football for the school and coaching for more than two decades, he is a Tiger through and through.
Jeter, who has an encyclopedic knowledge of Troup football, said the spirit he’s seeing from students is unmatched and reminds him of 1992 when Troup began playing LaGrange again. He credits principal Michael Lehr with bringing back the intensity.
Lehr, who is in his first year as principal, is new to the local football scene but he’s just as amped up as the students this week.
“There’s intense excitement and I feed off the kids’ excitement,” he said.
Lehr said today’s game likely will be sold out and extra bleachers are expected to be added to accommodate fans.
With emotions running high for both teams and the game edging closer, Lehr said tonight is about community. In this small corner of Georgia football is paramount but everyone is family.
“There are a lot of people who wish both could win,” he said, “because they’re both community schools.”