It made national headlines before the first game was even played. It seemed to play into all the stereotypes of Texas and football. During a crushing recession, the citizens of Allen had voted to build a $60 million high school football stadium. Barry Petchesky at the popular sports blog Deadspin described Eagle Stadium as “a gorgeous place to watch boys’ lives peak before they’re old enough to vote.”
Indeed, the stadium has a 3,400-square-inch scoreboard with a high-definition video screen, a plush pro-style press box, concession stands as nice as the ones at Cowboys Stadium, and a weight room that would suit most college football programs. But the detail that really intrigued me, the one that sent me on a secret mission in September, was this: Allen High School’s stadium has a luxury suite.
When I called the Allen ISD athletic department to ask if I might visit the suite during the first game—against the vaunted state champion Southlake Carroll Dragons—the woman at the other end scoffed at the notion.
“That’s for the superintendent and some guests,” she said. She did, however, offer me a media pass and invite me to cover the game.
By late afternoon, hundreds of people had set up in the Eagle Stadium parking lot, which accommodates more than 5,000 cars. Music blared from the speakers of an SUV. Children played tag, their mouths the color of blue Popsicles. Parents were decked out in red, white, and blue, sitting in camping chairs, drinking soda.
“It’s about coming together as a community,” one mother explained. “It’s about taking pride in where you live and wanting the best things for your kids.”
A volunteer ticket taker told me, “This is the biggest thing to ever happen to Allen.”
In the press box, I found producers from HBO Real Sports and NBC Nightly News. On the deck beneath the press box, there were scouts from at least a dozen big-name colleges watching the action.
By the second quarter, with Allen in the lead and everyone in the stadium bouncing with excitement, security, it seemed to me, had begun to relax. The press box and suite above it are accessed by an elevator, but I noticed a stairway leading to what I imagined was a world of unsurpassed football-watching luxury. This stairway was not secured.
Inside the suite I was greeted by the smell of new carpet and paint. There was a small kitchen and several large flat-screen TVs. About two dozen people were watching the game. A few looked to be high school students, but most were adults. I tried to eavesdrop on some conversations, but the game was tense and nobody was talking too loudly. I’d heard that the stadium architect would be in attendance, but I couldn’t tell who he was, and, as awkward as I already felt, I wasn’t about to start asking questions.
(I should note here that with long hair, a scruffy beard, and an old UT baseball cap that I rarely leave home without, I look like a suspicious character even when I’m not doing something like sneaking around a high school football stadium.)
The suite was nice but nothing that would excite the folks at Deadspin. Just people eating hot dogs and watching a football game. Pretty quickly, it felt like people were turning in my direction, wondering who had invited the hairy dude. It was time for me to go.
The adventure was a bit anticlimactic, but, then again, I’m not sure what I was expecting to find. Yes, in Texas we place too much importance on football, and we build huge stadiums. But parents just want the best things for their kids. Communities want to build something they can be proud of, something that brings people joy. And it’s not like the suite was filled with Johnnie Walker Blue and cigar-smoking congressmen getting lap dances from librarians. Maybe that’s in Southlake.