First, let’s set the scene.
Time: Friday night in mid-October. The air is just letting go of an Indian summer and is just bordering on “crisp.” The workweek is fading from memory as sunset turns to dusk.
Place: a high school football field. It could be any football field in any typical mid-Atlantic town. But, of course, this time it’s our hometown.
They say you can’t go home again, but I’d have to disagree. I left West Deptford in a hurry after high school, seeking big dreams and freedom and all those things that 18-year-olds can’t ever find right under their noses. Even when I did return home, it wasn’t with a plan of permanency. But here I am, raising my kids right around the corner from where I grew up.
I know I’m not the only one. So many WD alumni have ventured out for adventure, only to return here to plant their roots and raise their children. Because no matter where we go, this is our hometown, and let’s face it—we had a pretty good deal.
Raising kids in the same town where you grew up is sometimes living a GROUNDHOG DAY existence. Everything old is new again, and yet there are ghosts everywhere. I mean, it’s been a long time since I graduated with the class of way back when, but shouldn’t Mr. Buckley still be hanging around the English office? Don’t seniors still sneak to Donut Towne during study hall? How can there be a basketball game without the Smith brothers and the Page brothers dominating the key?
Different, but same
The air was brisk and the ghosts were floating nearby this Friday, when I walked down the path passed Oakview to the WDHS football field. The trek was hauntingly familiar, the walk I took two times a day every day for four years, walking up in the morning and back each afternoon during my tenure in WD. I rode my bike down this path countless times in my earlier years, as a Catholic grade schooler curious about the lives of the big kids in the public schools.
Then I was one of those kids myself. And I found myself taking this walk each weekend in October, whenever the WD Eagles were taking the field. I did this all through high school, taking my place with my friends in the stands, then cheering on my classmates. For years after, I tried to attend games as often as I could, to watch my brother play in the four years after I graduated.
Two of my sons played through their freshman year, but they’re both in college now, so I haven’t had a real reason to go to a WD high school football game in many years. But on Friday, I was going at special request. My brother Mark is part of this year’s “class” being inducted in the WD Sports Hall of Fame, and the class members were being introduced at half time. So, once again, I was going to a football game to watch my brother. Some things never change.
And in a way, that’s true. I mean, Donna Martello was still at the gate, greeting students, teachers and alum as they passed her table. Donna was a regular at WD events when I was a student, and president of the school when I was a sophomore. Now, she’s the recently-retired assistant principal who was selling chances to support the Hall of Fame. (Yes, she’s a member. No surprise there, eh?)
When I tried to take a seat in the bleachers, I was redirected by a woman in an EVENTS shirt. She told me the section I had chosen was saved for the class of ’72, which was holding a reunion of sorts in the stands. Grateful that she didn’t think I was a member of the Class of Even Longer Ago, I took a seat a few rows back.
It was easy to see what was different under those Friday night lights. Of course, those lights themselves are new. When I had a regular seat on these bleachers, the games were held on Saturday mornings, because the field didn’t have sufficient lighting. The cheerleaders still looked the same, although there were 25 of them, looking like an army of ponytails and pink pom poms. When I was a student, there were only ten spots on the squad, and try-outs each spring were more anxiety-ridden than any final exam.
The score was different too. On Friday, the Eagles won 54-12, extending their awesome winning streak. This was one change I welcomed, as football wins were few and far between way back when. (What was that old chant? “0 and nine in ‘79”?)
But when my brother walked out onto the track at half time, it was like old times. It was easy to remember being a regular on these bleachers, cheering for my brother as he made his way down the field. The band played rousing anthems, the cheers were loud and familiar (“Beat that high school!”) and the hot chocolate still burned the roofs of our mouths. It was what high school always was, and what it will always be when we look back, remembering gridiron heroes and glory days.