In the front row of Frisco ISD’s Memorial Stadium, Frisco Lone Star High School senior Dalton Light hoisted a white flag with a bright orange W.
Clad in navy blue and silver from head-to-toe, the fans clung to signs painted with orange-and-white numbered A-frame table tents. The school printed special shirts just for this game: "WHATA 'bout them Rangers."
Welcome to the Whatabowl, where more than the District 13-5A championship is at stake.
Texas-based Whataburger has been part of the Friday night lights tradition for generations. Up there with marching bands and homecoming mums, a trip to Whataburger after the football game is a mainstay for many Texas teens.
For Lone Star High School fans, that means visiting the Whataburger (unit #1020), on El Dorado Parkway and North Dallas Parkway. Lately, however, fans from Frisco's Reedy High School were moving in on their territory. The Whatabowl was so-christened to settle the turf war.
“We’ve been running this district for three years and ...”
Light was interrupted by hundreds of screaming Lone Star fans. The Rangers had intercepted a pass and ran the ball downfield for a first and goal.
“OK, so,” he continued, “we’ve been running this district for three years in a row, and everybody wants to say they own the Whataburger. That’s our Whataburger. We’ve owned it for three years. They ain’t got nothing on us.”
The team scored, and the bleachers erupted. Light pointed a fire extinguisher skyward, spraying white fog over the stands. In the middle of it all, the Whataburger flag waved front and center.
Lone Star High School football player Darrin Smith, 16, holds up the receipt for his triple burger with fries as he and his classmates celebrate their district football title. (Ashley Landis/Staff Photographer)
Later, Reedy, a young school still earning its place in the district, beat Wakeland, and their fans claimed the Whataburger.
That riled Lone Star fans.
“I think I can speak on behalf of all of Lone Star Ranger Nation that the Whataburger is ours and we’ll defend it any way we can,” said Gautham Metta, the senior class treasurer at Lone Star.
Metta even emailed Whataburger’s corporate office, asking for a fake contract to solidify Lone Star’s claims of “ownership.” The company declined, but did offer to throw a “Whataparty” for Lone Star seniors, complete with free honey butter chicken biscuits.
“It’s the fabric of who Whataburger is and how we’ve always supported our community,” said Jeff Altman, marketing manager for Whataburger. “We work with schools across the state. It’s fun for us to do.”
Altman remembers that Whataburger was always the place to be after football games when he was a student at San Antonio’s Churchill High School.
“It was open late. All your friends were there. Everybody loved the food,” he said. Plus, he said, it was cheap. “We were on these high school budgets from cutting lawns and cleaning pools.”
Altman points out one of Whataburger’s marketing lines: “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s where you go after the game.”
“Being the state burger, that’s where they want to go,” he said. “It goes without saying that these are two longstanding traditions. Friday night lights and Whataburger go hand-in-hand.”
In 2015, Mansfield Timberview and Waxahachie ended up in a tie for the final playoff spot out of District 14-5A. After a series of tiebreaker scenarios failed to break the deadlock, the decision would be made by a coin toss, like in the 1990 book Friday Night Lights. The coaches chose to have the fateful flip at a Whataburger halfway between the schools, in Midlothian.
Wixon: How Mansfield Timberview clinched a playoff spot at a Whataburger in Midlothian
Earlier this year, a turf war similar to Frisco’s Whatabowl ended with Colleyville Heritage fans flooding the dining room of a Euless Whataburger, dancing on tables and chanting. Police were called to the scene.
“It’s good for their business,” said Brennan Hood, a Wakeland freshman, “but a lot of crazy stuff happens.”
Hood was one of the fans who ended up at the Whataburger #1020 last week after the Whatabowl. Lone Star easily ran past Reedy, 63-35, securing first place in District 13-5A. On the field, a student waved the Whataburger flag as the team sang the alma mater after the game.
At the restaurant, teens separated into cliques and filled every booth. Whataburger employees had to dodge around standing high schoolers to deliver burgers and dole out spicy ketchup packets.
“What’d you get on your quiz?” one teen asked a classmate.
“Hey,” someone shouted across the dining room, “What’s your curfew?”
They feasted on double cheeseburgers and Whatachick’n sandwiches and Honey Barbecue Chicken Strip Sandwiches, but the fast food wasn’t the main draw.
“It’s not really about the food, it’s about how it’s our home,” said Lone Star junior Kennedy McGilvery. “It’s a good place to celebrate. Especially when your friends work here, you can see them if they have to work Friday nights, tell them about the game.”
Senior Andrew Perez arrived at the Whataburger after 11 p.m., carrying a Wendy’s bag from across the parking lot. He works there and gets an employee discount on food, but his friends were all at Whataburger so he placed his order to-go.
“It’s just a really popular place; there’s really no competition,” he said. “Texas is the home of Whataburger. Anywhere else can’t beat it.”
The teenagers continued to arrive long after the game ended, some staying after midnight. For Lauren Long, a junior cheerleader at Lone Star, the weekly trip to Whataburger just makes sense.
“It’s a Texas tradition,” Long said. “When you think Texas, you think football and Whataburger. So, why not?”