Our time in high school haunts us. Some may brush off that idea (maybe pointing to college as more important), but a lot of who we develop into starts during those four years. We figure out things about ourselves then, to put it more simply, and later we fine tune it. Good or bad, that high school version of yourself still exists someplace inside your psyche, no matter how much you wish to deny it. Yes, the pimples are there still, but just under the surface now.
For me, I had a recurring dream that lasted for about five years after I graduated. In that dream, I am always in different locations (college classroom, my evening job, etc.) and my high school band director shows up in full marching band uniform (which is weird since he would never wear a uniform), screaming that there is an emergency and he is calling everyone back.
Recently, I have learned that my old school, Wyoming Park High School in Wyoming, Michigan, was going away. And upon hearing the news, I was flooded with memories around that old building. Remembering the days when I wore blue and white and proudly told kids from other schools that, yes, I was a Viking.
When I was a freshman and sophomore I used to live a few blocks from the school and I would walk there each morning. There was something about that walk I loved, with my alto saxophone case bumping against my leg with each step. I would plan my day, think about the previous day; and for some reason, in my memory, it is always autumn. It was like a last taste of silence before the noise that was the hallways and madness of school. What made it that much more for me was how the school would come into view. There was always something grand about approaching the building from the direction of the theater, passing by it to the band room. With the high hill there, it looked big and important.
It meant something to me then (something I forgot), and that is what I tapped into with the news of the school’s end. The late night marching band practices in the dark with the football field lights flooding down, the football games with their smell of popcorn and greasy foods, the awkward high school dances (and even more awkwardly asking someone on a date), the feel of the classroom desktops under the fingers, the sound of pencils on paper, the clang of the slamming locker door…. It meant something, didn’t it?
If not, then why do sights, sounds, and smells still reside in our memory like ghosts in a haunted manor?
What makes this school consolidation a little bittersweet for us former Vikings is the fact that they are merging our beloved school with our arch-rivals, Rogers High School…
Of all the high schools, why did it have to be them? It almost makes a Viking feel that after all of the football, basketball, volleyball, and soccer games, and even band competitions, that they won in the end.
Yup, they won.
OK, that is ridiculous I know, but for us they were the “others.” They were the flip side of us, like in some weird parallel universe. We would be the normal Spock and Captain Kirk, they would be the versions with the goatees that would try to take over our Enterprise.
A few years after I graduated I was roped into seeing Rogers High School’s production of A Rebel Without a Cause. They were performing it at Park (Their school didn’t even have a stage!) and it was bad. They used the front of the stage to represent the cliff, which was an odd decision since actors would exit and enter from the front of the stage, making one wonder if they were climbing up a mountain; and they changed the ending so Plato didn’t die. Yes, Plato lived. Sigh… I tried to explain to my friend that that second chance at life ruined one of the important messages of the entire story, but they didn’t get it. Like I said, they are from a parallel universe.
But not anymore, now our worlds are crashing together, and soon will both exist under a different and new mascot. It’s a strange new world.
A few years ago, a bunch of my old high school chums and I went to the Homecoming game at Park. It was obvious to all of us that night, the school was a shadow of the past. The team lost by over 50 points (Yes, I said 50; it was so bad that they stopped worrying about the clock) and the band performed music from The Pirates of the Caribbean with a show that consisted of them merely walking on and off a set piece that was supposed to represent a ship. It was pathetic when you consider that in my years, the football team was a good team, and the marching band would win or place in state finals each year…. Movie soundtracks? Pfff! We would perform music by Berlioz and Mussorgsky.
Looking back at that night, those current kids and the empty bleachers, maybe something really isn’t being lost for them as it is for us in the audience trying to see a bit of our old selves. For me, I kept wondering if I sat in that exact same spot twenty years ago, and what does that exactly mean.
Yet, while the game and seeing the old school were hardly a homecoming, seeing my old friends definitely felt like that. Yes, almost twenty years had passed and with all of the experiences that that includes (wives, kids, travels, college, etc.), there was a brotherhood still breathing that we could fall right into. It was a nice feeling.
Kurt Vonnegut once argued that no one really dies, because someplace in time that person is still around, it’s just in your “now” that they are gone. I love that theory, and over the years, as more and more time passes, I find it strangely comforting. So maybe, for us who are losing our school and part of our identity, we should think of it that way. We are still Vikings, just not in the “now.”
UPDATE: After writing this editorial, I have received a lot of responses (as you can see as well below) about the schools being consolidated, both good and bad. So I decided to write my opinion on the consolidation a little more clearly. It is called “The ending of a story… the beginning of a new one” and it can be found here: https://sdsouthard.com/2012/03/17/the-ending-of-a-story-the-beginning-of-a-new-one/