When Odessa High School reopened its doors, the school also pushed ahead with the football and marching band season. But was it worth the risk?

Odessa’s religious fervor for football once inspired the television series “Friday Night Lights.” So when the coronavirus hit, it didn’t just threaten Odessa’s economy and education system — it threatened a key pillar of its community. We followed the Odessa High School marching band through a pandemic season.Credit…

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Odessa is a four-part audio documentary series about one West Texas high school reopening during the pandemic — and the teachers, students and nurses affected in the process.

For the past six months, The New York Times has documented students’ return to class at Odessa High School from afar, using Google hangouts, audio diaries, phone calls and FaceTime tours. And as the country continues to debate how best to reopen schools, Odessa is the story of what happened in a school district that was among those that went first.

Listen to Odessa: Part 2

Odessa, Part 2: Friday Night Lights

In 1988, a high school football team in Odessa, Texas, was so good that it became the inspiration for a book, movie and, eventually, the television series “Friday Night Lights.” And in the decades since, as West Texas has weathered the unsettling undulations of the oil industry, football has remained steady.

So after the pandemic hit, the town did what it could to make sure the season wasn’t disrupted. And at Odessa High School, where the football team struggles to compete against local rivals, the members of their award winning marching band were relieved they could keep playing.

In part two of Odessa, we follow what happened when the season opened — and how the school weighed the decision to start against the possible risks to students’ mental and physical health.

On this episode

Annie Brown, a producer for The Daily, who spent months reporting on Odessa’s reopening.

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Odessa was produced by Annie Brown, Sindhu Gnanasambandan and Soraya Shockley; with help from Mitch Borden and Diana Nguyen; edited by Liz O. Baylen and Lisa Tobin; engineered by Chris Wood; original compositions by Dan Powell and Marion Lozano; and fact-checking by Ben Phelan. Special thanks to Larissa Anderson, Clifford J. Levy, Dana Goldstein, Kate Taylor, Clifford Krauss, Apoorva Mandavilli, Ken Belson, Nora Keller, Lauren Jackson and Laura Kim.

Special thanks to the staff and students of the Ector County Independent School District.

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