When every board member voted yes, one following another, and the secretary declared the motion has passed, the high school auditorium erupted. The football team leaped to their feet, and there was clapping and cheering and hugs and high fives and one outspoken man ran cross the room to congratulate the coach.
And I watched, fascinated by this facet of life I have never experienced.
The issue was ending a co-op between two high schools that forced one school into a higher conference, where they’ve lost every single game in the past four years.
They have the conference record in consecutive games lost.
Monday night, roughly a hundred men, women and boys gathered in this small school in the rural corner of a rural county, begging the board to end the co-op.
Mothers got teary at the podium, telling of watching their sons play so hard, and lose so embarrassingly. The Friday night before had been devastating.
One foolhardy man urged caution, made some veiled accusations, and was nearly booed down.
He took his seat and the entire football team moved together to the microphone, awkwardly appointed a spokesman, spoke of family, and brotherhood, that was worth more than winning games; but that would disappear if the program continued to hemorrhage players.
The room erupted when they all sat down together, directly behind the one man who spoke out against the proposal.
And then the vote and there was chaos, utter chaos.
I wasn’t covering this part of the meeting. We knew it was on the agenda, so one of the sports writers was there. I planned on slipping out as soon as he arrived. But I was enthralled, just watching.
Anything that smelled like a criticism of their team was subject to derision. The coach, he looked so young, would jump to the microphone to defend his boys. They leaped up to defend him.
There were young men there, too, former high school football players, I presume. They were the ones muttering angrily when the one man against the change spoke.
And I felt a bit like a foreigner, watching it all from a side-seat.
I missed the whole high school football world growing back, though I arguably lived in a part of the country where football – especially high school – is god.
But it didn’t touch me. We didn’t get the paper, I never went to a game, and homeschoolers in our area didn’t have organized sports.
I didn’t really understand the game until college; and my college also did not have a football team.
The meeting, while intense, was short, and soon I was driving down winding, one-lane roads through valleys heavy with fog. Deer crossed into the mist ahead of me; my lights caught a possum’s sharp face, the glare from a raccoon’s eyes.
I heard him crunch beneath my tires, when I swerved to miss him and he lumbered straight into my swerve. I watched close for deer.
And I played again in my head how the boys all sprang up when the motion passed, one big group hug. They’re so small, these boys, mostly undersized with soft, childish faces. They may not stand a chance in the lower conference, either; but this gives them new life and they’ve formed an impromptu huddle in between the seats as I leave.
I wish them well.