Bring kids together on Friday night

By my estimation, high school football games are the greatest student solidarity builders since elementary school. It’s one of the reasons I love them.

I need to note up front that I grew up in the South, where football is practically a religion. I also exited high school at a time when graduation requirements didn’t regularly force students to choose between interests.

For the student body at my school, Friday night football games were a little magical. It was the first time since elementary school when we all were able to sit down at the same table, so to speak. And, sure, a football game was played, but the game was only one piece of the attraction.

Students who excelled in vocal music sang the national anthem, which was performed by the marching band. Dance teams and cheerleaders worked the sidelines. Coaches and players fought to move the chains. Yearbook photographers captured memories.

During the game, students dominated the stands, gathered near the section reserved for the marching band. When the band struck up the school fight song, or the drum corps beat out a cadence, I swear the bleachers vibrated.

We came together. We celebrated our youth and took pride in our shared roots; the moment made more poignant by knowledge that our days together were numbered.

Those memories are why, two weeks ago, even as the Marion Indians’ football team celebrated their first victory in a very long time, I left the stadium disappointed. Although students streamed onto the field in an impromptu victory circle afterward, they were segregated during the game.

The Scarlet Spectrum Marching Band from Marion High School
The Scarlet Spectrum Marching Band from Marion High School

In Marion the marching band is regulated to small bleachers behind one of the end zones. Rock music from loud speakers breaks into the band’s rendition of the school fight song.

There is a section of the stands where many students gather, but without the band in closer proximity, there is little give and take between those students, the pom and cheer squads (of which, in full disclosure, my daughter is a member) or the football team.

That night I asked why the band was so far away, and received no clear answer. A previous football coach, I was told, took issue with the band playing during time outs. Others said it had always been that way, or pointed to the size of the main bleachers and the parents who would be displaced.

Two band directors, relatively new to the district, said there was no reason the band needed to be isolated.

Yes, as a past marching band member, I identify with the Marion band kids. I wonder if they feel slighted, more of an afterthought than a real part of the festivities.

But I’m also sad for my daughter, son and all of their friends who so diligently and faithfully practice to perform their Friday night roles, only to be given a small slice of the reward they’ve earned. I wonder if the district has lost sight of the greater bonding purpose of these Friday night games.

High school is a time-limited engagement. Our kids should have ample opportunity to make the most of it, to come together in their fledgling status as young adults in celebration and mutual support of all their talents.

This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on September 17, 2016.