As a child, my sister, brother and I spent many of days on the practice football field at one of the local high schools. Our dad was one of the coaches, and we'd love going to practice with him. We'd stand on the sidelines and scream "go, go, go," to the players, use whistles to make them hustle and sing along when they did their "Army chants." Jessica and I still sing it to this day, with just as much excitement and pride as we did back then. (Okay, sometimes I would go up and "practice" with the cheerleaders too, give me a break, I was five..and a darn good five year old cheerleader if you ask me.)

This past Friday, West played their last homecoming game.

I grew up in, what I would consider, a very small town. We had two high schools, West and East, but looking back, that doesn't seem to represent the size of the city.  Two people attending the same school may have lived forty minutes apart, but it felt small. My parents and grandparents went to West, as did my siblings and I. I remember walking down the hall of one of the middle schools (now closed) and seeing a picture of my grandfather as a seventh grader, hanging amongst many people whom he still considered friends. When my parents were in high school, our town built East. Thus creating the town division and cross-town rivalry that defined the majority of our teenage athletic careers. After (so I've heard), many years of discussion and debate, the town has decided to merge the high schools once again. This year will be the last year of the East and West era.

A few weeks ago, East and West played one another for the last time (West won ;). This past Friday, West played the last  homecoming to ever be played on the field that holds so many memories of my young life.

I drove the hour north to go to the game, and visit the school I hadn't been to in years.  My mom sifted through basement boxes to find our old sports sweatshirts, others wore their varsity jackets from 30 years ago. Standing on the same field and watching the high school boys carry the same flag from the locker room, down the hill and onto the field felt bittersweet. In a way, much sadder than I had ever anticipated it would. 

It took me a long time to appreciate this small town, as I was one of those teenagers who couldn't escape it fast enough. Now, 10 years later (my 10 year high school reunion was also this weekend, more on that later), I can say that I've grown to love that small town appeal that I so fervently disliked. In the midst of years of traveling and moving, I've realized what an impact that place has had on my life. Appropriately, I've been singing multiple country songs as I write this post, but I'll attempt to not make this post turn into one.

I stood next to my husband and parents while the game played. I told him about the times I'd fetch water for the players by the bench that still sits, put my hand in and lead the chants, stare at the student section thinking those kids were so big, only to stand there last Friday and think how old I felt. How I crashed my car into the pole in the parking lot, was forced to walk in long socks and tennis shoes across the field for our senior homecoming due to a rain storm, played tennis 7 months out of the year on the courts that sat to our left, and played soccer on the fields across the parking lot. I even got so sentimental as to take a picture of the framed photograph of the '95 state championship football team that sits in the exact same location in the cafeteria. That was the last year my father had coached, a day of victory that is etched in my mind forever.

Sure, I may never live in this town again, and from an outside eye, it's just another Midwestern small-town that you'd drive through and probably not think twice about. But it helped shape me. I can't tell you how many people on Friday night told me they remembered when I was born, and how I looked JUST like my mother. "Meremere" is all grown up, they'd say, with a huge smile and bigger hug.
I walk into the restaurants and see familiar faces, run past the church that most of my family members (including Kyle and I) were married in and know that so much of my family heritage rests in its walls. I drive past my high school and I can't escape so many memories from such a young age. I hear stories of my grandfathers gas station on the corner, or the car lot on M-21 and I wonder if our children will hear those memories echoed through my life as well. Maybe I am a small town girl at heart.

Go Panthers :)

One Comment

  1. What a sweet story! That's so nice that you went back for the last game. My 10 year high school reunion is this year too. Time is flying!


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