It is a scene that is played out on Friday nights in every small town and big city across the state of Alabama every fall. Each with their own special tradition, high school football teams enter the local stadium and run onto the field, welcomed by enthusiastic cheers.
Even for someone like legendary Head Coach Terry Curtis at UMS Wright Preparatory School in Mobile, who has coached for 50 years, it is a moment that never gets old. For one night a week in the fall, high school football brings a school — a community — together in such a unified, positive, and supporting spirit.
With a spark in his voice, here is how Curtis described the build-up and the feeling of stepping onto a football field, especially at home.
“For us at UMS Wright, there is nothing like coming down the long hallway. There is a red carpet laid down. We walk down to the sliding glass doors or what we call the Delchamps doors at the end of the hall. We get down there. The fans can see us. The students can see us. We run through that tunnel. It all works. Our people are here every time we play no matter who we play. It’s always gonna be fun. We still have a grass field. You can smell ‘football.’”
In celebration of the kickoff of the 2022 Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA) football season, we talked to three head coaches about football in Alabama, and why it is more than a game.
High School Football is More Than Victories
“I knew when I was in the eighth grade that I wanted to be a football coach,” Coach Curtis declared at the beginning of our interview in his office filled with trophies and signed game balls recognizing important milestones.
Currently the second winningest football coach in Alabama High School history, Curtis did not mention he is only 11 wins away from surpassing recently retired Vestavia Hills School Head Coach Buddy Anderson on the all-time wins list.
In fact, he never talked about any of his 337 victories at the three high schools where he has coached in the Mobile area: Shaw, Murphy and UMS Wright.
“I am proud of our consistency,” said Curtis. “We’ve done it over a long period of time. In 23 years here at UMS Wright, 21 out of those 23 years, we’ve made it to at least the third round of the playoffs. There’s only five rounds. And for my whole career averaging 10 wins a season, we’ve done something right.”
Meanwhile, Curtis takes great pride in his players. For example, even though some schools are experiencing declining participation in football, the 2022 UMS Wright team is fielding 84 players, the most they’ve ever had.
“We had a speaker at camp last week and he asked the question: how many of you want to play college football?
Only one guy raised his hand. These guys are playing the game for the right reasons. They love the game of football and they’re not looking for any scholarship, even though I think more than one of them could play college ball. More importantly, they like being around their friends and being good teammates.”
Football is in Their DNA — Brothers LaRon and Kelvis White
In North Alabama, there is perhaps no other family more rooted in high school football than the White family from the small town of Courtland in Lawrence County, one of the most rural communities in the state.
Presently, brothers LaRon and Kelvis White, head coaches at Sparkman and Bob Jones high schools respectively, grew up learning to love the game of football from their dad Louis White and their uncle, Hoover White, both AHSAA Hall of Fame inductees.
“It was football all the time in our house,” described LaRon, who played collegiately for Alabama Coach Gene Stallings in the early 90s.
LaRon began his high school head-coaching career at Tanner High School in neighboring Limestone County, winning two Class 2A state titles. For the past six years he has directed the Class 7A Sparkman Senators football program in Madison County.
“I knew early on all I wanted to do was be a football coach,” said LaRon. “Back in those days we lined the field with my dad with chalk — it is a life calling.”
Kelvis, the head coach at Class 7A Bob Jones High School, previously coached at Homewood, Russellville and Dothan high schools added,
“We didn’t know the difference. We thought it was normal — football practice and traveling on the bus as a kid. We didn’t understand the significance of what my dad and my uncle were doing until we got older and learned they won so many games and had Hall of Fame careers.”
Can’t Wait for Kickoff
Despite coaching for two decades, LaRon can’t wait for football season to kickoff every fall.
“I get nervous by it all. The anticipation. Replacing the students that graduated with the new guys—putting in all this work. How are they going to handle adversity? Can they step up and do what is expected of them?”
And even though Sparkman and Bob Jones play against each other once a year, the brothers still talk during the season.
“We’re a football family—we talk football. LaRon, he is a worrier. He calls me two-three times a day. I know it’s football season when he starts calling me a lot,” Kelvis chuckled. “Now I have to be careful because we play in the same region, I can’t talk to him as much. But, even on holidays or in the summer, when we go to my parents house we talk X’s and O’s with my dad and how we can improve our teams.”
Who Do Their Parents Root For?
Inquiring minds want to know: who do their parents root for when they play against each other?
“Depends on the grandkids!” explained Kelvis. “Two years ago, when LaRon’s son was on his team, they rooted for him. This year my son is a junior on my team. So my parents are probably gonna pull harder for the grandkids. Got a grandchild involved in the game—that makes the difference.”
More Than a Game
Along with his role as Head Coach of the football team at UMS Wright, Coach Curtis is also the school’s Athletic Director.
Football isn’t the only fall sport—there are volleyball and cross country, he reminded us.
Coach Curtis summed up why high school athletics in Alabama is more than a game — why it matters.
“It’s important for kids to be involved in extracurricular sports. They learn how to work with people, build relationships and be a good teammate. To me, that’s a very important thing to carry with you in life.
And I think that’s why high school sports are more than a game.”