One afternoon on a recent trip to the United States I was walking through the grounds of my friend’s old high school in Virginia. I encountered an immaculate synthetic American football field complete with banks of bleachers and a commentary box. A six lane athletics stadium, a weights room, and a wrestling room (seriously). I found it difficult to stifle to overwhelming sense of jealousy that was slowly rising, particularly when I recollected my own experiences of school sport in the not so distant past.
The only areas of grass that my school had were two football pitches which were mud-baths in the winter before being baked as hard as stone in the summer. When the athletics season came the ground became an indecipherable patchwork of lines demarcating the running track, rounders pitches and inexplicable grids. As in the UK of course, there will always be variations between different institutions, but the overwhelming impression was that in true US style, high school sporting culture was bigger and better.
As I soon found out, the differences between high school sport in the US and secondary school sport in the UK was more than just a gulf in facilities and money. For the most part, things over the pond are taken far more seriously. In the case of this particular high school, a student could only play one sport per term, and everyone had to attend try-outs.
Charlie Brown, now at Hertford College studied in America for three years. She describes how her sporting experiences at high school were ‘far more competitive than anything I experienced in England’. This competitive edge often spilled off the field in ways that may seem recognisable to players of Sunday league football: ‘there was a lot of pressure from vocal mums and dads…referees spend a lot of their time asking parents on the side-line to be quiet’
Matt Fanelli came from Princeton to study in Oxford in 2012, a keen rugby player in America he immediately noticed differences in how the game is approached: ‘there are so many different sports in the US beginning in high school, but when I came to Oxford I could not come close to the average player in soccer or even rugby. Since you guys specialize at such an early age, the skill level is just not paralleled.’ Social differences were also noted: ‘Drinking is a much bigger part for rugby teams…I loved it.’
PHOTO / US Navy