On Saturday Mike picked me up to go see the Southern Eagles. He brought me a gift, a football ball. I was so happy, it was first time I had a ball that is not round shape in my hands. I was thinking whether it gets thrown the same way as other balls, and before opening my mouth, Mike said: “I will teach you how to throw it!” It was not the first time I felt like he can read my mind.
I did not have the slightest knowledge who are the Southern Miss or where they play, but I found out very soon. On the way to Hattiesburg I found out some interesting facts about Mike’s life. He was a coach in the past and he told me a story how he became one.
Judy Frascogna, Mike’s wife, was working as a teacher before she decided to stay home and take care of children. She was teaching kids from 5th and 6th grade and they were mad because they didn’t have a coach training them football. Once there was an incident in school when one of the kids almost hit her in the face and nobody was there to discipline him, but the principle. Judy came home and asked Mike to come to school afternoons and coach them, because they need to stop being so mad. He refused, since that was the time of life when he worked and went to law school, so he did not have extra hours. After a while a local priest called him and asked him for same favor. After a while, he confirmed and came to the the field with them for the first time. Jackson Raiders.
“My name is Mike Frascogna, and I have heard there are many tough guys here that like to hit women” was his first sentence.
I can imagine how they became pale and started sweating, knowing they almost hit coach’s wife. And even though 12 years old, they knew what would probably follow. Mike lined them up and made them run until they couldn’t walk anymore. One were crying and some were screaming, but he did not allow them to stop.
“After a while, I had bodies all over the field,” he said.
I thought that was cruel, but knowing Mike, it just cannot be perceived that way. It is understood in the south as a way of raising boys into real men.
Mike’s generation was coached by men who came out of World War, fighting for their country. For them, fight on the field was nothing in compare to what they have been through. So they coached their players rough. And these players, like Mike, coached their kids in the same way. I guess one cannot call it pure violence without understanding it’s culture deriving from the war veteran’s cruel experiences.
It was a hot day with some clouds waiting for break up, but in Mike’s car you cannot sense the heat. The a/c is blowing so hard I need to be covered with blankets and preferably wearing a scarf and hat. Sometimes I can feel pain in my sinuses while I breed cold air, but nobody believes me. Mississippians are used to it. For them, humidity is much bigger problem than risking bronchitis or arthritis.
We stopped on the way to pick up Jay and arrived to our destination in an hour and fifteen minutes. Southern Mississippi University is one of the three biggest universities in Mississippi, which is considered to be less popular than Ole Miss and Mississippi State. They do not have law school and medical school in Hattiesburg, but the university is very strong in art programs. I was told I should wear yellow and black, actually not yellow, but golden. Even though I still cannot see the difference. I might be a bit color blind. Unfortunately, Mike and Jay warned me about what I should wear post festum, after the fact.
What I learned when attending all these football games, fans are very strict when it comes to the colors you are wearing. Colors determine your position, for who you cheer and how much of a fan are you. Mrs Gill from the law firm told me today “fan” is shorter for “fanatic.” I heard that one before, but somewhere on the way forgot about it. In Mississippi, it makes a lot of sense.
When we arrived to Hattiesburg, everything seemed calm. People were not too enthusiastic and the campus was surprisingly quiet. It did not look as last week at the State game at all! It felt like coming to a cultural event without any kind of excitement, except everyone around me wore yellow (golden!!) and black clothing. While walking around the campus and observing the architecture and parks around it, we run into few beautiful young ladies, dressed in black and shiny, with hairstyles from the 60’s.
“Who are those?” I asked Jay and he explained they were Dixies. The famous dance group from Southern Mississippi with extraordinary moves and choreography. And he was right. When I saw them later on the field, marching towards the audience with long steps and straighten legs, without binding their knees, it was weird. But it looked amazingly elegant, they were all beautiful girls and they seemed enjoying their performance.
The game was interesting. Eagles played Rice, and home team was playing drastically better. Crowd was content, and stadium was filled with people and I was trying to compare it with the State game from last week. It was not as load, there was nothing ringing in my rings and the production was not as spectacular. But I absolutely loved the sound of Eagle. When the eagle squilled at the beginning I could felt the encouragement and passion among golden and black colored people around me. I went quickly upstairs to the guy selling souvenirs and I bought myself the most golden hat I could. When I came back, Mike noticed:
“Oh, you got yourself a hat” and I said: “Well yes, it was raining a bit. I needed to cover my hair.” But it was not just that, I really wanted to wear this very golden color and feel I was a part of the excitement around me.