Hover over the image for navigation and full screen controls
Everyone in Strawn, Texas knows Friday night means football. Located approximately 80 miles west of Fort Worth, Strawn is a small community with a population of around 700. Strawn high school estimates they will have only 39 students in the 2010-2011 school year. Without enough players to field a traditional 11-man football team, Strawn plays a variation of the sport called 6-man football. Unlike 11-man football, all players on a 6-man team play both offense and defense. Although the fields is slightly smaller than a traditional 11-man field, the fact that there are less players leaves more room to run, resulting in a much faster, higher scoring game. While many outsiders see 6-man as an inferior version of the sport, a demotion of sorts, the residents of 6-man towns take great pride in their teams. During the playoffs, towns with populations in the hundreds can draw fans in the thousands. Winning a 6-man state championship, as Strawn has done in 2003 and 2008 is considered one of the highest honors in the state. While 6-man is played across Texas, and in several other states and Canada, the sport is most prevalent in tiny west Texas towns where populations have been steadily declining due to migration to larger cities. In Strawn, the school is the center of the town and football represents the school. People see the kids of Strawn as their future, because if the school disappears, the town essentially disappears as well. People in Strawn see the football players as “our boys.” When one of the players needs something they can’t afford like lunch for a long bus ride, a uniform, and even x-rays, the town will find the funds to get them what they need. The boys in Strawn grow up knowing they are expected to play football, but at the same time, most grow up waiting for the day they get to play on the team, and in the spotlight. In Strawn and many other towns like it, football is a piece of Americana passed down through the generations. It is an ever-present way of life, a source of pride that binds the community together, and it’s what you do on Friday nights. When I first arrived in Strawn, I knew virtually nothing about the place and absolutely nothing about 6-man football. But soon, I was welcomed into the community with open arms. The people of Strawn let me into their lives and for that I am forever grateful.
Emily Berl was born and raised in Washington, DC. She graduated from Boston University where she studied photojournalism and art history. She is currently a freelance photographer living in Brooklyn, NY.