I’m so thrilled today to interview young adult author and friend Tiffany A. White for Deep-Fried Friday and my High School Halls series. When I decided to have a post on football, I knew just who to turn to since Tiffany recently released a young adult mystery that revolves around that sport. I hope you enjoy the interview and will check out her novel, Football Sweetheart.
The Houston Oilers and Dallas Cowboys graced my family’s television regularly in my childhood. Did you grow up as a football fan? If so, who did you watch and why?
Did I grow up a football fan? I wish you could hear my wicked laugh right now. If I’m not mistaken, I’ve been a football fan since I was just a few days old—my aunt has a photo of me wearing a Texas Tech t-shirt that is about ten sizes too big. I may not have known how to smile at the time, but I had excellent taste in college football.
But seriously . . . yes, I grew up a HUGE football fan. Midland Lee Rebel Football, Texas Tech Red Raider Football, and Dallas Cowboy Football filled every weekend of my childhood from Friday night through Sunday. And honestly, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
I’m not really a football fan now. I’ve turned to baseball. Do you watch the pigskin sport now? If so, who is your favorite team (or teams)?
There’s that laugh again . . . yes, I watch the pigskin sport every opportunity I get! I’m still a die-hard Red Raider, and while being a Cowboy fan hurts more often than it is fun, I remain a fan of America’s team.
A few years ago, my guy and I joined a fantasy football league called Couples Therapy with some friends. Now, we’re addicted to watching NFL RedZone so we can see each and every score in the National Football League every week. Before, we only watched the Cowboy games and the Patriot games—the teams we love.
“Tom Brady is really easy on the eyes.”
That’s right, I didn’t mention the Patriots before; that’s because we’ve only recently started following the New England team because of our beloved former Red Raider, Wes Welker. Oh, and Tom Brady is really easy on the eyes.
I grew up in South Texas and you grew up in West Texas, but both places emphasized football as a key ingredient of the high school experience. What is your fondest memory of high school football?
Wow. My fondest memory of high school football in Midland? There are so many . . .
I was Lee High School’s mascot when I was five years old. Every Friday night that year, I dressed up in my miniature cheerleading uniform and stood on the field with the varsity squad. Those girls treated me like I was a princess—and I loved it!
In high school, my strongest memory would have to be winning a football game against Abilene the same night three of my friends were involved in a horrible accident on their way to the stadium. During warm-ups on the field, we could hear the emergency vehicle sirens. It wasn’t until someone came and told us what had happened that we realized those sirens were for our friends. The accident was extremely serious, leaving one of our friends in a coma for a while and hospitalized for months. In hindsight, it probably wasn’t the best idea to tell the team about the wreck before the game, but winning it meant that much more. We were always a unit, but that night we were family.
Geez, I’m tearing up just thinking about it. Here’s to you Monica, Luke, and Carissa.
I have many memories of pep rallies, wearing school colors, playing our fight song, and attending games on Fridays. Why do you think sports generally, and football specifically, play such an important role in school spirit?
High school can be stressful; and even more, high school can be awkward. I think football and all sports help the student body come together as one. If only for a little while, teenagers forget about what’s weighing them down in the classrooms and at home and get to have fun—blow off steam in a way.
“I think sports help break down the barriers that many of us put up.”
Also, I believe sports remind everyone, despite the social circles they belong to or their classifications, that being one is more powerful than being alone. When our team scores a touchdown, everyone jumps up and down in celebration and hugs the person next to them—regardless of who that person is. Because of this, I think sports help break down the barriers that many of us put up.
TEAM–Together Everyone Achieves More.
When I was growing up, I played football with the neighborhood kids. I used to be able to throw a perfect spiral pretty consistently. Have you played football yourself? Recreational? Powder-puff?
Have I played football? Julie, you sure know how to make me laugh! Of course I’ve played football! Much like Football Sweetheart’s protagonist Aimee, I served my high school team as a student trainer. Every Saturday morning after treatments and while the boys watched film, my good friend and fellow trainer and I would go outside, run through the fitness and drill stations that the boys would do during the week (logs, ropes, etc), and then we’d toss the ball around. Back then, we both had excellent arms and actually threw tight spirals.
Our senior year, I signed up to play Powder-puff against our cross town rivals. I learned all of the offensive linewoman routes and everything, but for whatever reason I couldn’t make it to the game. I think “real” high school sports got in the way. To this day, I hate that I missed it. My best friend Brandy supposedly took out one of the Midland High girls. Whoever said Power-puff was a no-contact sport obviously hasn’t played in West Texas . . .
Your recently released novel, Football Sweetheart, features a high school athletic trainer? Why did you choose a behind-the-scenes football team member as the protagonist?
The short answer is because I was a student trainer. But the long answer is because I was a student trainer. People not involved in athletic medicine don’t really know anything about it, and I wanted to showcase the trainers.
When I was fifteen, I dislocated my knee playing in a freshman basketball game. Because the injury occurred during a high school sponsored event, I was rushed over to the high school field house where the head trainer looked at my knee. After a visit to the orthopedic surgeon, an MRI, and brutal physical therapy, I picked up my rehabilitation schedule at the high school and worked every day with the student trainers. Despite the fact they were all high schoolers themselves, they took great pride in helping athletes get back into shape. Once my treatments ended and I was officially released to go back to basketball, I realized that basketball was no longer in my future; all I wanted to do was help other student athletes the way Doc’s group helped me. Trainers aren’t managers, even if student trainers oftentimes fill both roles on a football team. Student trainers are one of the most professional groups I’ve ever been a part of—student training changed my life.
You do a great job of describing the football preparation, practices, and games in your book. How did you get that level of detail? Did you research or use your own knowledge?
“My experiences gave me the behind-the-scenes knowledge I write about in Football Sweetheart.”
I may have answered this a bit in that last question, but I pulled all of my knowledge of the football preparation, practices, and games from my experiences as a student trainer. For three years of my life, I participated in two-a-days, after-school practices, and stood on the sidelines of all the Midland Lee football games. I already knew football, everyone “knows” football in Midland; but my experiences gave me the behind-the-scenes knowledge I write about in Football Sweetheart. I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly; I know the true meaning behind the phrase, “What happens in the locker room, stays in the locker room.” So, if there’s anything you want to know that I don’t talk about in my book, just ask. If it’s not top-secret, I’ll share.
Your novel’s tagline is “High school football can be murder.” Tell us a little about how you weave together high school football and a murder mystery. What is Football Sweetheart about?
Football Sweetheart follows Aimee Freeman, a high school student trainer at Midland Lee. Like most seniors, she’s looking forward to the start of her final year of high school and is excited to catch up with her best friend Ella who has been a bit secretive all summer long. With the start of football two-a-days, Aimee thinks she’ll have all of the time in the world to catch up with her friend—but then Ella goes missing.
Aimee realizes Ella’s secrets might be the key to finding her. As the case unfolds, Aimee discovers more than one person may have wanted to harm Ella. Was it Ella’s current boyfriend, a social outcast the entire city seems intent on blaming for her disappearance? Or her ex-boyfriend, the beloved star quarterback who has harassed Ella since their breakup? The list of potential suspects continues to grow after Aimee reads Ella’s journal, but she must first break her best friend’s secret code to reveal their identities.
Unbeknownst to Aimee, her investigation has not gone unnoticed. Ella’s abductor is watching and waiting. Will he decide Aimee needs to be silenced–making her the next target?
That’s all of the “about” that I can share without giving too much away.
I’ve known for years the story that I’ve wanted to tell. Obviously, football is and always has been a huge part of my life. I hail from a town in West Texas where high school football is life. I took my experiences and memories and weaved in a murder mystery because I’ve always been obsessed with the genre (in a healthy way, I promise).
But here’s something not everyone knows—when I was either an 8th or 9th grader, a local high school senior/student trainer went missing. The case is still considered open in Midland, but the girl’s remains were finally found years later in a field outside town. This true crime haunted me and haunted Midland for years. Midland is a small town; in 2011, I believe Midland only had a handful of homicide cases. Everyone knows the world is more violent today than it was in the ’90s, so just imagine how we felt. Here I was, watching the news about a girl just a few years older than I go missing. Then I joined the very same athletic training program that she participated in. I guess my story has been brewing ever since, but make no mistake—Football Sweetheart is fictional and the product of my imagination from years and years of watching and reading murder mysteries.
How do you think high school football has changed over the years? Is it still the same now as when you went to high school?
“High school football in West Texas hasn’t changed one single bit…”
High school football in West Texas hasn’t changed one single bit since I attended Lee. The players, coaches, school officials, and members of the community are still just as serious about winning today as they were years ago. The city has upgraded the football facilities since the ’90s; today the high school teams play in a state-of-the-art stadium that holds over 15,000 people—and they fill it all of the time. The Midland Lee football program has yielded multiple NFL success stories, including Eric Winston (Kansas City Chiefs) and Cedric Benson (Green Bay Packers), both of whom play today. A few of the players I went to school with also experienced successful NFL careers (brothers Rex and Ryan Tucker).
However, high school in general is so very different today than it was in the ’90s. For starters, the kids seem so much more insecure—primarily the girls. Society for whatever reason has taught teenagers today that dressing in as little clothing as possible and wearing high heels is normal. It’s not. High school is supposed to be about education, and how can one learn when wearing five-inch heels without focusing on the pain? We dressed for comfort back in the day; we looked cute, don’t get me wrong, but it was more about jeans and flats back then.
Back to the insecurity aspect, an abundance of teenage girls today are or have already been pregnant at least once. Shows like Teen Mom on MTV aren’t helping matters. I’m not going to imply that girls weren’t having sex in high school in the ’90s, but I will say one thing—they weren’t getting pregnant left and right. When a girl announced she was pregnant while I was in high school, she was shipped across the street to an alternative classroom. She was removed from the mainstream so that other girls didn’t see her and think it was okay to get pregnant.
I’m not saying this was the proper action in the ’90s, but it worked. I can remember only one girl having a baby while I was at Lee, and more than that, I remember the reaction of all of us—shock and fear. It was the perfect form of birth control for my circle. Today, pregnant teens are everywhere. I’m not just saying this; my mom recently retired after forty-four years of teaching and she once made the comment that it was normal to have at least one pregnant girl in each period. On average, she taught six periods a day. That’s six pregnant girls just in her classes. Hearing her stories about today’s youth frightens me.
Teenagers are always going to have sex, even unprotected sex. It’s a fact of life. But because of what seems normal today, I felt it imperative that I make Football Sweetheart as clean as possible. I didn’t want to ignore the social situations of today, but I also didn’t want to showcase them. I wanted to focus on other things, good things . . . like murder. LOL.
Football Sweetheart is the first in the young adult series. Have you already started plotting or writing the next book? If so, can you give us a teeny, tiny teaser?
It is and I have! The second story of the Football Sweetheart series will be published later this year, and the third and fourth books in 2013. I’ve yet to publicly announce the name of book two, but I am very close to revealing the cover. Until then, I will say that FS2 picks up one month after the conclusion of Football Sweetheart. It’s Halloween week, Aimee has a new boyfriend, and all is right in the world . . . until she realizes someone is watching her, following her, and getting a little too close for comfort.
But that’s all I can say . . . for now.
Thanks, Tiffany! What a pleasure to have you talk high school football with me today!
Be sure to find Tiffany on the web (she’s everywhere!) and to check out Football Sweetheart.
Facebook Author Page: http://www.facebook.com/AuthorTiffanyAWhite
Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/football-sweetheart-tiffany-a-white/1112318218?ean=2940014999670