By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
"You have to be committed to Katy football, like nothing else matters. If you're not, then you're like a lot of kids and just quit," Holl says. "It's the way you live, it's what you know, and you realize you have to do it if you want to live up to the standards."
In Florida, the season couldn't have gone better for Cypress Bay until the week of the game.
Two days before the team was scheduled to leave for Texas, center Leslie Tripp came home from practice and found out his mom had died from a heart attack.
The entire team attended a chapel service the next day at a church by the high school, and wristbands were made that said "MOM." Tripp decided to make the trip and play.
The Katy Captains' Moms are usually the first at Rhodes Stadium on game days for the traditional decorating, hanging signs on walls and spelling out cheers in the chain-link fence with Dixie cups.
That wasn't the case on Saturday morning, October 4, the day of the Battle at Rhodes. The stadium and parking lot were completely empty, except for men and women spilling out of a production truck with television cables and electrical wires, setting up for the day's national television broadcast, being aired on ESPNU, a college-intensive division of the Disney-owned sports über-conglomerate.
Steve Melton, the on-site producer for the Katy game, normally works the prime-time broadcast for ESPNU. The week before, Melton produced the University of South Florida versus North Carolina State, and if he wasn't at Katy, he would've worked a night game at the University of Virginia.
Before the first Katy fans arrived, steel and wood scaffolding had been erected on either side of the stadium press box and topped with massive television cameras.
Another platform and camera were placed in the home end zone, not far from the Katy train carrying a fake tiger. Microphones and wires were installed along the sideline, for cameras on the field and easy access for the sideline reporter.
The booster club got to the stadium a little after noon, to set up folding tables with Katy merchandise — pom-poms and T-shirts and hats — about the same time as ESPNU commentators were climbing the stairs to the press box to rehearse for the game and prerecord voice-overs.
Since most high school stadiums aren't as equipped for TV as Division One college venues, broadcasting from them sometimes presents special challenges, Melton says.
The extra work is worth it. High school athletics as sports entertainment has exploded during this decade. This is the first season that ESPN has broadcast a full 19-week schedule of high school football.
"Go back to 2002, ESPN took a chance and aired a high school [basketball] game that LeBron James played in," Melton says. "The ratings for that game were huge, there was a lot of interest. Between that and different Internet hits, for ESPN it was determined that there was a huge audience out there."
A representative from ESPN stressed that the company doesn't pay high schools to broadcast games. Instead, ESPN pays Paragon Marketing Group to pay Titus, who in turn pays the school its share.
None of the three companies would disclose the terms of the agreement.
But the money is there. For instance, someone at the stadium the day of the game might have thought it was a military exercise, with all the U.S. Marines gear displayed — a Marine Hummer out front, an inflatable Marine towering over the booster club, and a chin-up bar for children to test their strength.
Another person from the broadcast crew spent a couple hours before the game hanging Old Spice and Nike signs on the stadium walls.
ESPN has made a significant investment during recent years, buying established brands to up its coverage of high school sports; it has purchased Scouts, Inc., Hoopgurlz.com, and Hardwood and Gridiron magazines.
The company also put together the Boost Mobile Elite 24, an all-star basketball game for the top 24 high school players, and the Under Armour All-American Football Game, an end-of-season event.
ESPN RISE, a new company brand, is devoted to high schools.
"I think it's untapped on the sports side," says James Brown, the senior vice president at RISE, which is aimed at growing the station's 12- to 17-year-old audience. "It gives us an opportunity to not only talk about what they do on the field but also what's going on in their lifestyle, what shoes do they wear, what music they listen to, what kind of things they do in the community."
Again, sports psychiatrist Miletic sees trouble.
"The kids begin to have a feeling that they have to perform and win but it isn't all for them," he says. "Some of the downfalls of that, aside from the obvious, the kid begins to lose a sense of himself, as being able to be somebody who has the freedom to develop himself in other ways."
Corporate advertising in high school is such a new phenomenon that no solid research has been done, Miletic says, but he has seen the negatives for years.