The chapter begins with the Friday morning pep rally where once again the players are the heroes to be glorified yet another time. For Don Billingsley, however, Friday isn’t about school. He doesn’t do much on Fridays. It is just a couple of classes to fill up the time until the game begins. All he does is show up and complain that the classes should only be 15 minutes long since nothing during his senior year seems to actually be taught. Not all classes at Permian are like this, but even at that, the school isn’t exactly a hotbed of intellectual activity. The teachers are burned out by lack of interest in learning and lack of rudimentary knowledge. The SAT scores have dropped since the seventies and there is only one National Merit Scholar unlike seven in the seventies.
Some blame the poor academic showing on desegregation and a rapid increase in the Hispanic population. Others blame it on the economic depression, the break-down of the family unit, parents who seem less than interested in pushing their kids, recent educational reforms, or some teachers even blame it on themselves. They all acknowledge that the kids won’t take responsibility for their own learning or don’t know how. Anyway, for Don, it is all so boring and there are always other kids to allow him to copy their homework. Like all his classmates, there is only the ability to do more than regurgitate facts, no attempt to make critical judgments. He relies on his football player status to make him special. Even Eddie Driscoll, who ranked two in the senior class and because he was an intellectual, stood out like a sore thumb, often wonders what it would be like to sit in those two rows where the players sit during pep rallies.
There is also the mystique for the girls to date someone like Don Billingsley and to be a Pepette who takes care of him all season. They are conditioned towards liberal arts in high school, and their greatest ambition seems to be to marry well. Girls like Julie Gardner, who came from a small town in Montana, find the atmosphere at Permian difficult to adjust to. She is proud of her intellectual abilities, but she is ostracized because of them. She knows that girls are expected to “dumb down,” and being a Pepette or a cheerleader is a special cachet. This attitude makes guys like Don Billingsley movie stars among the girls. Some want to pay him to sleep with them. Others willingly carry his books from class to class, trying to gain his acceptance when their blemishes and plain looks are not enough. He is voted Mr. PHS in the fall, an honor that stuns his teachers. This is the boy who readily admits that to him, school is for socializing.
Brian Chavez also fits a stereotype, just like Don Billingsley, of the dumb jock if anyone just looks at him. However, he isn’t dumb at all, being the top student in his class. On the field, he is an angry terror, but off the field, he is quiet, serene, and smart as whip. Furthermore, his attitude about football is different as well since he knows that if he fails on the field, there is success outside of playing for him.
His favorite teacher is LaRue Moore, a dynamic English teacher who bemoans how much money is reserved for the football program as compared to the educational program. She cites how the medical supplies needed for football cost $6,750 while the entire English department is only allotted $5,040. The department finally has received a computer to be used by all 25 teachers while the Varsity football team, which already has one, receives a new one. She makes $32,000 for 20 years experience and a master’s degree, while Gary Gaines, who is both head coach and athletic director and teaches no classes, makes $48,000 and is given the use of a newTaurus sedan each year. Her complaints are not that football doesn’t deserve these perks, but just that there is no leveling.
Hugh Hayes, when he became superintendent of schools in 1986, was determined to make improvements in the educational program; however, he soon discovers that there is little he can do. It is all a matter of priorities and the priority at Permian is football. Vickie Gomez, a former board member, sums it up best, “If we prepared our kids academically as we prepare them for wining state championships, there is no telling where we would be now.”
Boobie Miles’ day in school consists first of a language arts class where the students are at least two years behind their peers in their skills. He is doing a research paper on the life of zebras. Then, he goes to Algebra I, a class he should have taken as a freshman. He is barely passing. After lunch, there is creative writing where he spends time playing with a purple plastic gargoyle-looking monster and writing a few words of a story. This is his favorite class, because the teacher doesn’t expect much from him. She sees football as all a kid like Boobie has going for him. He eats some candy and eventually leaves early for football practice. This is the academic challenges football players at Permian are offered.
This is an eye-opening chapter in that it exposes the major priority of Permian High School: football. Even the students who are not involved in sports are offered few challenges and their achievement scores are quite low. No one seems able to change the inevitable love for the Panthers and the lack of concern for learning.