Grandpa Jackson stands his post in the top aisle. Grandma sits anchored, front and center in the aluminum bleachers on the visitor’s side of Rankin Stadium.
Mom and Dad sit in the back row, leaned into the chain-link fence with granite hills to their back. One uncle works the sideline with the coaching staff. Aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces fill out an entire section, along with all of their shirt-tail cousins who swear they can throw that football over them-there mountains.
They came to watch the Kingsburg Vikings beat Monache High 45-28 in a Friday night football game in Porterville. They cheered nonstop as Jett and Bo Jackson passed, rushed and interception-returned their way to six touchdowns.
But, you know what? They would have been their even if their family wasn’t on the roster, because that’s just what they do.
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“We’re all family, one way or the other,” says David Jackson, a seventh-generation farmer who grows peaches, nectarines and very large football players along the river’s side of Kingsburg. “These kids, we just love them, not just our own.”
To meet the Jacksons at a local high school football game is to understand what makes high school football so special to our San Joaquin Valley, and why it remains the fabric of the small-town communities that dot our railroad lines and rural highways.
Every town has a Jackson family, the ones that come to the games long after their kids graduate. They come, because this is their team, this is their town, and home still means something to a lot of people around here.
In a plugged-in age, high school football remains the public square that connects us most. We remember that Gasca name from when we were in school – my wife is related to his dad, somehow. Hey, we went to Selma High with that Gayton kid’s dad … wait, Gayton moved to Kingsburg? There’s “Sister Arlene,” the coach’s mom who goes to our old church in Traver.
Most of us move away from home – my kids have bene dragged from Selma to the Bay Area to Porterville – but high school football remains the homing beacon that draws us back to see old friends and watch their kids do what we did when we were their age.
Every year, my kids find themselves in Selma’s Staley Stadium while their old man bores them with his glory day stories. Now, my oldest is at Monache, creating her own yarns.
Families that can do that in one place for three generations? All the more special.
David – Mr. Jackson to us, if you don’t mind – played the line for the Vikings. His big brother George played football for the Vikings alongside Monte Clark and Rafer Johnson – get off the gaming chair and Google their names, kids. Mr. Jackson’s sons and nephews played for the Vikings. His kid’s kids are now playing for the Vikings.
Mr. Jackson brags about his grandkids, and he brags about everyone else’s grandkids, too. He talks about their new growing church, Grace Church of the Valley. He talks up the new wrestling coach, Bryce Hammonds. He talks about the girls volleyball and water polo teams.
For 15 minutes, Mr. Jackson makes us forget about political divides, pro football holdouts and all the other bacteria that floods our digital screens.
On a Friday night, it was all about my daughter playing clarinet in the halftime show, old classmates catching up, and sitting with Kingsburg family that loves beyond bloodlines.
Yeah, high school football is still special like that.
“I’m gone a lot, but I always make sure I’m home on weekends,” he said. “I’ve got to be at the games on Friday, and I’ve got to be at church on Sundays.
“God has blessed us so much.”
1. If the Raiders want to tank their way out of Oakland, trading defensive wonder Khalil Mack to Chicago is a dazzling start. Way to Viva to Las Vegas one way before you’re supposed to Viva.
2. Did you see Utah State push No. 11 Michigan State to the brink Friday? Fresno State is going to own their Mountain West Conference division again. Not sure Boise State will be the one waiting for the Bulldogs in the conference final.
3. From the Predictions Dept.: quarterback Derek Carr has the best season among Bay Area quarterbacks, and not Jimmy Garopollo. None of this matters as Carr’s Raiders and Jimmy G’s 49ers both go 7-9 and miss the playoffs.