In the tiny West Texas town of Iraan, the drumming begins two hours before game time. A dozen or so fans of the Iraan High Braves, already at the football stadium, pound on tom-toms: one loud beat followed by three lighter ones, over and over and over. The sound of the drumming carries all the way across town and echoes off the nearby hills and mesas, and soon more fans arrive, many of them, adults and students alike, wearing war paint on their faces. Some carry homemade spears, made of PVC pipes with rubber tips, which they bang on the metal bleachers, keeping time with the tom-toms. Others shout a war chant while they hold up their arms and make tomahawk-chop gestures.
By kickoff, close to 800 of Iraan’s 1,200 citizens are packed into the stadium. The ninety-member Big Red marching band launches into the school fight song, and the six varsity cheerleaders turn backflips. When the Braves run onto the field, the roar from the crowd is almost deafening—“like something you’d expect at a college game,” says Clara Greer, the editor and publisher of the weekly Iraan News. “In Iraan, we have no roller-skating rinks or bowling alleys or movie theaters. For our entertainment, we’ve got the Braves. Out here, Friday night football really is the one thing we live for.”
In the fall of 2007, the Braves were led by four good-looking