Small Towns & Friday Nights

Mead connected with Burtson for a quick touchdown early in the 1st quarter. Carver completed the PAT for the extra point giving the Bulldogs a fast 7-0 lead.

-Rural Reporter, 2004

Call it a whim.

That’s exactly what it was. It was a whim. A person posted on social media that they were going to the local high school football game season opener. That, mixed with a required rest day from running, equated to a ‘hometown date night’ with my wife. Instead of heading down to the city to watch the high school I coach at play, or even the team in the town we live in open their season, she hopped in the car with me and I went home.

I’m from a town of 1500 people. In high school the town built their first Subway, one gas station, two water towers (one came in while I was in high school), and a consistent knowledge that the town would be in the stands on a Friday night and in the pews Sunday morning.

My parents still live in that town. We visit them from time to time, but honestly I keep a low profile within the community. No real reason, just an internal acknowledgement that life moves forward and so do I. However, 13 years since retreating from that town upon graduation, we paid a stagger $8 and found our way into the stands.

I think the stands were the only thing that has changed since I last stepped into the area (aside from the new high school building that was promptly built upon our own graduation). The scoreboard still stood in the southwest corner with its only claim to fame printed below the neon clock ticking the time away:

2004 State Runner-Up

It was an echo of a different time, a reminder of life when it was easier and less complicated…a nod to what once was. Within the stands generations of local families sat and talked the common topics; crops, politics, and sports. Anyone from a small town can attest that the heartbeat of a community that size comes from the squeaks of sneakers on the gym floor, the ting of an aluminum bat towards the outfield, and the popping of pads at the 40 yard line. For nine months out of the year Friday nights are the community meetings; business deals, celebrations of families, and remembrance of the past trickle through handshakes and hugs. Children of the future streaked across the grass towards the end zone, almost knowing that one day they’ll wear the same colors on the same field in front of the same congregation on this hallow night. Practice never stops, scrimmages of ‘two hand touch’ within the grass connect in line with the double-duty parent ensuring no one is too injured, while also keeping track of the ball placement for the ‘big boys’ under the lights.

In a time of ever-changing societies and cultural norms, there are still a few places where someone in a time machine wouldn’t realize they’ve moved time at all.

This was one of those places.

The deacon from the church I grew up in; his little kid is now a senior in high school. The school nurse that I remember (and 5th grade Sunday School teacher)? Her daughters are in college…and already out. The classmate that beat on me in elementary school, but rose to be an incredible athlete and leader both in high school and college sat in the stands as an educator with his high school sweetheart; enjoying the chatter of evident upcoming bundle of joy. My former Spanish teacher, where I struggled immensely, still leads students at the concession stand dishing out hotdogs and Pepsi. The folks I went to high school with? They’re in the stands, catching up on life, watching their kids ‘grow like weeds’, and enjoying the essentials of happiness; liberty, laughter, and life.

Personally, I tried not to be acknowledged for the few hours my wife and I sat in the stands. Nothing along the sides of negative wishes of the past, but merely to observe without being involved.

We made it to halftime.

One classmate stopped by to shake hands, talk the talk, and give thanks for the “blackest dirt” he’s seen in America. Four people that were three grade levels in front of me were back down on the dirt track watching the ball go back and fourth through the stalling seconds of the game. Now, instead of catching up from college, they kept track of little ones scurrying about, and laughing about “that one time”.

The night, personally, was spent recognizing what is new (high school principal who was my 7th grade social studies teacher), and what hasn’t changed (former high school principal who is retired still showing up for the home games). It was reminiscent, but also a reminder of my own change and growth. Where the 6’4, 180 pound student with an attempt at facial hair stood with a camera recording the games 15 years ago was replaced with a long haired, bearded educator, with ink throughout his skin with stories of different times after this. His wife sat next to him, pondering what her husband really looked like a ‘football manager’ all those years ago; chuckling throughout the evening, and curious as to what a ‘team chaplain’ really was. She listened to his archaic tales of when he wrote his first newspaper articles on the local football team each Friday night after getting home, statistics in hand.

The metal, reflected constructs of aluminum was a bridge between what was, what is, and gathering by the laughter of children…what will be in that small town.

Leaving to head home, we drove down the two lane, main road that was lined with blue and gold flags; reminding all those who passed through that it was game day. I began to think about the incredible personal story that I had not put together all those years ago, leading up to the present:

While in high school I started writing short little pieces for our school newspaper, and writing my own speeches for competitions. A family friend from down the road asked if I would write a few stories for the county newspaper as a “Friday Night Recap” for the local football team. That translated into writing sports reports for the college I attended, and also for the college newspaper. This transitioned into writing for an online website dedicated to women’s soccer throughout the world. That resulted in an opportunity to write for a published magazine on the University of Kansas, University of Missouri, and eventually the United States Women’s National Soccer Team*. Those experiences translated into my own writing as a recovery method after experiencing a tragic, damaging divorce. Years later it resulted in a website dedicated to the humor of people running in the woods, at times a hundred miles in one setting, and hoping that, that writing style would brighten someone’s day.

I was born to move, not sit still, but instead to explore. It is woven in my DNA, and I absolutely love it. Almost as much as I love sharing stories with others about those experiences as they pass by.

It truly does take a village to raise a single child; one Friday night under the lights with a pen in hand.

Shawn.

*I’m still grateful for the grace that, that editor showed me upon revising that story. I am still embarrassed all these years later.

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