Starting in Westhope, ND - in the shadows of the Canadian border; travel south for 1487 miles to the Mexican border town of Laredo, TX; as you wander through the idyllic High Plains, you will celebrate the unique American phenomena of small town high school football. Along the trail, explore the trivia found on America's 50 yard line; discover the best town to throw down a beer with the local good old boys - and much, much more.
A Glory Field
The problem with this stop in Isaac's pursuit of a football home was academic. "I just couldn't get the book work done. I tried, I really did, and I didn't do badly, I just didn't do well enough. At the end of the semester, the coach called me in and said that my grades were good enough to stay in school and good enough to be on the team. But since I was from out of state, I had to have a higher grade point average to keep my scholarship, and I didn't have it. If I was to come back to play in the fall, I would have to pay my own way, and I just didn't have the cash to do that.As a two time loser in the college placement game, Isaac's choices were now limited. He and his high school coach finally found an NCAA Division III school in the north that could parlay a combination of loans, grants and local scholarships to help Isaac generate the $40,000 plus it was going to cost him to attend this private institution with a great academic reputation.
"It was the chance of a lifetime, I know that now," he says as he looks back with five years of hindsight. "It was an environment that I had never been in before. Money, money and more money. I think I was the only one who didn't have much. Even the other brothers on the team came from families with money. My (black) roommate's parents were both lawyers. But people were cool with me and I was treated goodIsaac still has a hard time explaining why he left. "I blew it. I could have stayed. I had a good year, not a star, but a good sophomore year of playing ball. But I just couldn't make myself go back for another year. It just was not the same as in high school. The coaches wanted to win, but not like we wanted to win here. If we lost in college, that year it was no big deal. By the next day we were over it. Academics were more important (than football). You could miss practice with no penalty, if you needed extra time for a class. That would have never happened here (Wilson). And nobody came to our games. People around school didn't treat me special because I had a good game on Saturday. By Monday, I was just another kid in history class. That whole summer leading up to the next year, back in Wilson, I just couldn't get myself motivated to work out. I keep telling myself, 'tomorrow I will get started.' But I never did. By the first of August, I finally was honest with myself and told people I wasn't coming back. I know I let a lot of people down."
Isaac returned to his adopted hometown knowing that, for all practical purposes, his football career was over. "I continued to work out, continued to dream, but deep down inside I knew it was over. And I knew that without football, my life didn't mean much
Isaac continues to help the local team in a peripheral way. He has considered coaching, but knows that without a college degree and a teaching certificate, all he can do is volunteer work with younger players. "I still go to high school practice a couple of times a week. And I help out with the little league program on weekends, but it just isn't the same. All I want to do is play. You know what is funny about football? When your school career ends, that's it. You are done. With baseball or basketball you can still continue to play; slow pitch softball or city league basketball. The outlet is still there. But with football, it is gone in a flash. I was at the top of my game in that regional, and then bam! We get beat and no more. I know I will never play again. I have accepted that, but it still hurts. What I wouldn't give for just one more week of practice. It doesn't have to be a game. I just want to feel special again. But that ain't going to happen”.
"The worst time for me is when that first cool front comes in about the end of September, when you need a jacket at night. It just takes me back, back to that fall. It was magic and I know I will never feel so needed, so purposeful again. On Friday game nights, about 6 pm, the lights go on at the stadium. I can stand outside the store, look across town and see the glow. I close my eyes and remember. It is like I am back there, padded up and ready for war, but in control, because my life has meaning again. Everyone in town is there, young and old, -the whole town - at the game, coming to see me perform. It is my time and my world. It is the best feeling and the worst feeling, all at the same time, all wrapped into one."
Our waitress returned. "It’s getting late guys. Ten minutes to closing time. One last round?" she asked as she cleared from the table our night's work of empties.
The pool game concluded and one of its' four players, an overweight middle aged white gentleman with an ample paunch, approached our table. "Let me tell you something," the intoxicated man slurred, as he reached down to hug Isaac. "You should have seen this boy run that football. That is what is a matter with 'em boys up at that school house this year. No speed. What we need is another little monkey like Isaac."
Amongst this backdrop of dead end drunken dreamers, the greatest running back in the history of the Wilson Panthers, whose brief career had rocketed him to local star status - a hero and the toast of the town- sadly shook his head side to side in quiet resignation to his fate. After a long swig to empty the final bottle of beer for the evening, the only 2,000 yard rusher in the history of Wilson High stood and headed for the door. It was closing time.
1. Best Restaurant on Highway 83 for a “I don’t care about cholesterol” Down Home Cooked Meal: Canadian Restaurant, Canadian, TX
2. Best Steak Dinner on Highway 83: Beehive Steakhouse, Abilene, TX
3. Best Mexican Food on Highway 83: Taco Palenque, Bismarck, ND
4. Motel With the Best Free Breakfast on Highway 83: Super 8; Valentine, NE
5. Best Home Made Pizza on Highway 83: Hot Stuff Pizza, Larkin, KS (a few miles off the path, but worth it)
6. Best Small Town Newspaper on Highway 83: Emmons County, ND Record
7. Best High School Sports Writer on Highway 83: Steve Kodad, McCook, NE
8. Best High School Football Rivalry on Highway 83: Abilene, TX Cooper vs. Abeline,TX High
9. Best High School Football Tradition on Highway 83: The McCook, NE Pre Game Motorcycle Escort
10. Best Small Town Tradition on Highway 83: The Green Flag announcing the arrival of the weekly paper, Canadian, TX
11. Most Affluent Area on Highway 83: Good Question didn’t see any.
12. Most Poverty Ridden Area on Highway 83: Rosebud, SD Indian Reservation
13. Best Tourist Attraction on Highway 83: North Dakota State Fair, Minot, ND
14. Best Historical Museum on Highway 83: Lewis and Clark Winter Fort, Mandan, ND
15. Runner-up Best Historical Museum on Highway 83: Museum of the High Plains, McCook, NE
16. A Town on Highway 83 I Would Most Consider Relocating to: McCook, NE
17. A Town on Highway 83 I Would Least Consider Relocating to: Crystal City, TX
18. Best School Mascot on Highway 83: The Blizzards of Winters, TX
19. Runner-up Best Mascot on Highway 83: The Pied Pipers of Hamlin, TX
20. Most Out of Place School Mascot on Highway 83: The Clippers of Strasburg, ND
21. Most Common School Mascot on Highway 83: tie: Bulldogs and Wildcats
22. Runner-Up Most Common School Mascot on Highway 83: Eagles
23. Most Common School Color on Highway 83: Maroon
24. Runner-Up Most Common School Color on Highway 83: Gold
25. Least Imagination for Choosing School Colors on Highway 83: Black and White, Rexford, KS
26. Best Local Reason for Choosing School Mascot and Colors on Highway 83: Kelly/White, of the Shamrock, TX Irish
27. Best High School Football Record in 2012 on Highway 83: Scott City, KS 14-0
28. Worse High School Football Record in 2012 on Highway 83: Crystal City, TX 0-10
29. Best Road Tripping Oldies Radio Station on Highway 83: KBYZ 96.5 FM Bismarck, ND
30. Runner-up Best Road Tripping Oldies Radio Station on Highway 83: 100.7 KOOL FM Abilene, TX
31. Best Road Tripping Oldies AM Radio Station on Highway 83: KRRZ 1390 AM Minot, ND (there are still a few out there)
32. Stretch of Highway 83 a Traveler is Most Likely To Experience a Radio Inspired Evangelistic Religious Conversation: The South Texas Hill Country
33. Stretch of Highway 83 a Traveler is Least Likely to Find a English Speaking Radio Station: The Texas Rio Grande Valley
34. Stretch of Highway 83 Least Likely to Find a Decent Oldies Station: Valentine, NE to Pierre, SD
35. Loneliest Stretch of Highway 83: North Platte, NE to Valentine, NE
36. Friendliest Motel Proprietor on Highway 83: Don of Don’s Motel in Linton, ND. I stayed those so many times he became like family and he always laughed at my jokes
37. Least Friendly Motel Proprietor on Highway 83: A Lady who will remain nameless at a Texas Panhandle Bed and Breakfast (woke me up and wanted to know “what my damn problem was” for not checking out when I had already paid for another day. She never did apologize.)
38. Fastest Growing Boom Town on Highway 83: Minot, ND
39. Miles of Unpaved Surface on Highway 83: 33, along the northern stretch of South Dakota
40. Stretch of Highway 83 a Traveler will most likely be forced to listen to Hungarian Peasant Folk Dance Music on NPR: Valentine, NE to Pierre, SD
41. Area on Highway 83 Most Likely to Take Your Breath Away: Sand Hills, NE
42. Cheapest Gas on Highway 83: Mission, SD
43. Most Expensive Gas on Highway 83: Minot, ND
44. Number of State Troopers Patrolling Highway 83 Who Prefer a Free Well Written Book on High School Football to Writing Speeding Tickets: Three and counting.
45. Town on Highway 83 Most Likely to Enforce No U-Turn Ordinances: Ballinger, TX
46. Best Bar Town on Highway 83 to Slam Back a Few With the Local Good Old Boys: Childress, TX
47. Worst Bar Town on Highway 83 to Slam Back a Few With the Local Good Old Boys: Pierre, SD
48. Most Convenient Airport on Highway 83: Bismarck, ND
49. Least Convenient Airport on Highway 83: Abilene, TX
50. Most Picturesque High School Football Stadium Setting on Highway 83: Hamlin, TX
51. Most Picturesque Sunsets on Highway 83: Lake Oahe, SD
52. Best Motel Rates for the Value of Your Dollar on Highway 83: Linton, ND
53. Worst Motel Rates for the Value of Your Dollar on Highway 83: Canadian, TX and Minot, ND
54. Windiest Stretch of Highway 83: Texas Panhandle in the Perryton, TX region
55. Most Dangerous Area for a Traveler on Highway 83: Laredo, TX
56. Best Motel Name on Highway 83: The Elephant Fart
57. Cheesiest Motel Name on Highway 83: Nights in White Satin
58. State Activity Association on Highway 83 Most Likely to Hassle a Poor but Hardworking Writer: North Dakota State High School Activates Association (After spending the whole season at the elbow of Linton Coach Dan Imdieke, when the Lions made it to the state championship game, I was told by the head bureaucrat from the NSSHSAA that I would not be allowed on the sideline and to make sure my mere presence did not disrupt this solemn occasion, he left one of his neo-Nazi workers to make sure I didn’t violate his edict.)
59. State Activity Association on Highway 83 with the worst “let them eat cake” Attitude: Once again, the NDSHSAA. (When I opinioned to one of the group's directors that $15 for admission and $5 to park seemed high for a high school game, I was told that if schools didn’t like it, they didn’t have to play. When I asked how much it cost him and his family to attend the game, he smuggly commented that as directors he and all of his family’s admissions were free. Ok, I guess it is a good deal.
60. Dumbest rule on Highway 83: In North Dakota, you can only dress 50 players for the state championship game. If you dress 53, like Linton did one year, the NDSHSAA will levy a fine and threaten you with expulsion from the next year’s playoffs. It is all about the kids; yeah, right.
61. Coolest Small Town Name on Highway 83: Satanta, KS
62. Worse Small Town Name on Highway 83: Porcupine, ND
63. Least Likely Looking Town on Highway 83 to Produce an Accomplished Professional Athlete: Turpin, OK; hometown of Dallas Cowboy All-Pro Lynn Scott
64. Cheapest Town on Highway 83 to Buy a New Buddy a Beer: Childress, TX
65. Most Expensive Town on Highway 83 to Buy a New Buddy a Beer: Minot, ND
66. Friendliest Town on Highway 83 to a non-Descript Traveler: Uvalde, TX
67. Least Friendly Town on Highway 83 to a Non-Descript Traveler: Pierre, SD
68. Most Conservative State on Highway 83: A six way tie: North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.
69. Most Liberal State on Highway 83: No qualifiers
70. Best Developed Down Town on Highway 83: Canadian, TX
71. Hilliest Stretch of Highway 83: North of Pierre, SD
72. Longest Flat Stretch of Highway 83: anywhere in Kansas
73. Best Strip Club on Highway 83: Didn’t see one, but there was a wet tee shirt contest advertised for a Bismarck Bar
74. Least Picturesque College Campus on Highway 83: Liberal, KS
75. Most Picaresque College Campus on Highway 83: Minot State, ND
76. Worst Stretch of Highway 83 to Run Out of Gas: The Sandhills of southern NE
77. Town on Highway 83 with the Most Fast Food Franchise Per Capita: Garden City, KS
78. State on Highway 83 With the Most Heavy Metal Radio Stations per Capita: North Dakota
79. Most Overhyped Tourist Trap on Highway 83: Lawrence Welk Homestead, Strasburg, ND
80. Least Developed Historical Site on Highway 83: Bear Bryant’s Junction Boys Practice Field, Junction, TX
81. Town on Highway 83 With the Largest Concentration of Political Power: Pierre, SD; state capital and home to two US Senators, population 15,000, the same representation as the state of California, population 12,000,000.
82. Best Town Name on Highway 83 to Have Produced a Famous Football Coach: Winner, SD; hometown of legendary Notre Dame Coach Frank Lahey.
83. Best 24 Hour Casino on Highway 83: Rosebud, SD
Texas Rio Grande Valley