As diverse as we are as a nation, there are many things that unite us in terms of common experiences. Like it or not, we all live under the government that is elected. To get from point A to point B we all have to travel on the same roads. And if you’ve gone through high school or attended a sporting event it’s a pretty safe bet you spent some time on the bleachers. Although the concept of tiered row of seats to watch some public event is rooted in ancient architectural history, it was Americans which coined the terms bleachers or grandstands. Just another in a long list of ways where America takes the lead!
Back when baseball got its start around the late 1880s, the original form of bleachers where simple planks of wood assembled in a step fashion which allowed everyone an unobstructed view of the action down on the field. Because these were outdoor seating arrangements these planks of wood became bleached by the sun and thus the name bleachers was coined.
The term bleachers ushered in a whole new way of approaching a sporting event. As ballparks grew and expanded, comfortable seats were put into the infield section while the bleachers remained a popular section in the outlying parts of a stadium. It was here that you would find the enthusiastic bleacher fans that developed their own rituals and traditions. They even adopt their own identities depending on the hometown sports team. Ever hear of the dog pound? Those would be bleacher fans?
As for grandstands, think of them as the bleachers’ fancy cousin. It’s the exact same structural design but with a different purpose. Grandstands are often erected along parade routes or during military reviews. Along with the classic tiered seating arrangement a grandstand can also incorporate a platform in the front of the seats that allow for speeches to be delivered. Chances are if you’re somewhere where there are grandstands you’re going to be hearing some kind of speech!
Today, you’ll only find the classic wooden type of bleachers or grandstands at parks or small towns that purposely don’t want to upgrade. Most bleachers today are made from aluminum or steel. As you can imagine, they can become rather hot in the noon day sun! Bleachers also don’t have to be permanent structures. Most high school gyms have folding or rolling bleachers. These allow for the seats to be pushed together like an accordion and make more room on the playing court. This same approach to design also allows for bleachers and grandstands to be portable and moved from location to location.
The next time you have a chance to sit on a set of bleachers, consider all the other folks who came before you. What thrills did they get to watch down on the playing field or court? What bonding experiences did they share with friends and family? There is a lot of history in every set of bleachers!
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