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It's Friday Night Lights In Gov. Perry's Hometown


Texas Governor Rick Perry's campaign speeches often note that he's from Paint Creek, Texas, a place in the flat, dusty west-central part of the state. It's so small it's barely on the map. NPR's national political correspondent Don Gonyea headed there this past week and, along the way, watched a football game at Perry's old high school. It was Friday night lights with a twist.

DON GONYEA: Here's how small Paint Creek is: the entire school district is a single building on a country road surrounded by red clay farmland that stretches from horizon to horizon. The student population this year totals 160 - that's Pre-K through 12th grade. But this is Texas and Friday nights mean one thing.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Pirates fans, on your feet. Let's meet your 2011 Paint Creek Pirates.

GONYEA: Paint Creek, like other tiny rural schools, play the game called six-man football. That compares to 11 players for traditional football. The field is just 80 yards long, and once the ball is snapped in this game, every player on offense is eligible to run the ball and catch a pass. I talked to Paint Creek School Superintendent Don Ballard on the sidelines. What's it take to be good at this game?

DON BALLARD: A lot of speed. You don't have to be big. You just need to have a lot of speed.

GONYEA: You couldn't field an 11-man?

BALLARD: No, no. We're going to play football, whether it's six-man or four-man, we're going to have a team.

MAN: Go Pirates.

GONYEA: Lightning strikes on the very first play from scrimmage for Paint Creek.


GONYEA: It was a 41-yard run for a touchdown.


GONYEA: The crowd numbers about 300. Some sit on tiny bleachers, but people also drive up and park right next to the railing by the field. They sit in the beds of pickup trucks or on lawn chairs. Seventy-two-year-old Wallar Overton is down by the goal line. He has been farming here his entire life but he used to play for Paint Creek back in the '50s. He says it still feels very much like it did then.

WALLAR OVERTON: Pretty much, yes, sir. Pretty much. When I played, it was all dirt. No grass on it at all. But six-man ball is just fantastic.

CHEERLEADERS: Pump, pump, pump it up. Push, push, push it up.

GONYEA: Sixty-one-year old Bill Coleman graduated from Paint Creek High in 1968. Rick Perry was his classmate. Both played football.

BILL COLEMAN: We worked as a team. We worked real good together. And, you know, we just huddled up and we just - he called a play or whoever was quarterback at the time called the play and we'd run it. And, you know, we just helped each other out.

GONYEA: How good were you guys?

COLEMAN: Three out of four years we won district.

GONYEA: Pretty good.

COLEMAN: So, we were good.

GONYEA: Coleman says he's a Democrat who supports Republican Rick Perry's political career, but he clearly would rather watch football than talk politics on this night, which, as it turns out, was a very good night for the Paint Creek Pirates.

MAN: Your final score: the Paint Creek Pirates 38, the Rule Bobcats 18.


GONYEA: Don Gonyea, NPR News, just back from Paint Creek, Texas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.