A West Texas road race, the Super Bowl of six-man footballand, arguably, the world's first rodeo.
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If you make a movie of it, they will come. Thanks to The Rookie, Texas has its own field of dreams in this agricultural town seventy miles southwest of San Angelo: the very diamond where Reagan County High School baseball coach Jim Morris, a former major league draft pick whose career fizzled in 1987, promised his team (called the Big Lake Owls in the movie) that he’d try out for the bigs again if they could win the 1999 District 1-2A championship. They did and he did, earning a brief but magical stint with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Because the cinematic version of Morris’ story (starring Dennis Quaid) made the town famous, you can score a Big Lake Owls T-shirt there—and why not watch the real team, the Reagan County Owls, take the field (1111 Twelfth; call 325-884-3714 for the team’s schedule).
You can’t really go wrong in any Texas town on any Friday night in the fall, but this longtime logging outpost (roughly equidistant from Houston and Tyler) is where you’ll find Jermichael Finley, the only high school gridder out of Class 3A or lower to make the first team of Dave Campbell’s Texas Football’s 2004 Super Team. A nationally ranked recruit who also stars at hoops, the six-foot-four, 215-pound wide receivertight end prospect recently broke the hearts of the University of Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, and the University of Houston by verbally committing to the University of Arizona. Nonetheless, on a Saturday some three years hence, you’ll be sitting in a sports bar, smugly lording it over friends: “J-Mike? I saw him play in high school” (Lumberjack Stadium, Diboll High School, 1000 Lumberjack Drive, 936-829-5626).
Hey, who hasn’t gone a bit over the speed limit on a wide-open West Texas two-lane? At the Big Bend Open Road Race, held every April in the town best known to park visitors as the last stop for citified goods and services, you can do it legally. Racing in everything from street-legal sedans going 95 miles per hour to “Unlimited” entries (with roll cages, padded steering wheels, and harnesses) going more than 200 miles per hour, 130 drivers head down U.S. 285 to Sanderson and back, maneuvering through some one hundred turns in a 118-mile race against the clock. To see something other than the start or finish, volunteer: More than one hundred people get to spread out along the highway, sealing off cross streets and cattle guards as the drivers zip by (432-336-8525; April 23, 2005).
Montana. Nebraska. Kansas. New Mexico. Colorado. Canada. Australia. Those are just about the only places in the world where six-man football thrives, aside from Texas and, believe it or not, Norway. Each July since 1996, a group of Lone Star high school all-stars has taken on (and usually whipped) the rest of the world in the All Americas Bowl, which has been held in Ranger, Abilene, Breckenridge, Gordon, Big Spring, and Garden City, where the Texas team garnered its sixth win this year and where the face-off will occur again next year. Thirty-seven miles east of Midland, the town has just three hundred people, but its passion for the game is considerably larger—Bearkat Stadium holds up to two thousand fans (Garden City High School, 240 W. Bearkat Avenue, 432-354-2243; July 16, 2005).
Rodeo, not football, is the official sport of Texas, and it all started in Pecos on July 4, 1883, even if this dusty town about an hour southwest of Odessa shares the (apparently untrademarked) brag of having hosted the “World’s First Rodeo” with Deer Trail, Colorado (which claims one in 1869). These days, the West of the Pecos Rodeo —sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association—offers four nights of roping, wrestling, racing, and riding every summer, plus the rodeo parade, the old-timers reunion, and induction ceremonies for the Texas Rodeo Hall of Fame (currently housed in the West of the Pecos Museum). No dogie in its right mind would rather git along to Colorado (Buck Jackson Arena, 1500 S. Cedar, 432-445-2406; June 29July 2, 2005).