It’s 5:30 p.m. on a Friday night. I’m sitting in my truck in the high school parking lot, watching the Pride of the Valley, the Clear Fork High School Marching Band practice for its performance for tonight’s football game. It’s a beautiful fall evening in north central Ohio. The warmth of the day still lingers, the skies are blue, completely devoid of even a single cloud. The trees on the hills surrounding the field are a mixture of green, yellow, orange, red and brown.
Maybe it’s because I know I’m moving, but everything about this night just strikes a chord in my soul and I want to savor every moment. With two kids that have already completed high school, this isn’t exactly my first rodeo. I’ve grudgingly attended many high school sporting events. We have done our share of games. For whatever reason, though, tonight just feels special.
Friday night lights for most people is all about the gridiron; a small pigskin moving up and down the field, the sound of teenage boys in football pads crashing against each other, the chants of cheerleaders on the sidelines and the yells and groans of the parents and fans seated in the stands.
Bellville, Ohio, is about as Norman Rockwell as it comes these days. There’s a big white gazebo in the middle of town where the community meets for annual events like the Memorial Day parade or the local street fair or the lighting of the Christmas tree. The people in the bank know you by name. Most likely, they were your high school friend.
The people at the local hardware store greet you as soon as you walk in the door and ask you what you need help with. More often then not, they help you work out what you need to fix and if they can’t help you, they are full of lots of suggestions of people who can.
The local mill is still in operation, selling bags of pet food, chicken feed and bales of straw. It’s a small, friendly town that takes pride in its community.
Football is a big deal here and in our school, it’s a community event. Parents sit along side of grandparents and extended family members. The old-timers sit together, reminiscing of days when they played football on a similar Friday night. They intersperse their tales of glory in between their scornful and disbelieving comments to the refs when the call is wrong and their whoops of praise when our team does it right.
But I don’t come for the football.
Friday nights, for me, are all about the band. My two sons are in band. Noah, is the drum major. This is his senior year and his second year leading the band.
He made the lanyard around his neck by weaving para-cord together. He also made his epaulet arm cords, although this year, he wears one gold loop to signify his status as a senior.
I have tailored his uniform to fit, attached his arm cuffs so they don’t’ fall off his uniform, and sacrificed my hair ties to hold his feather band onto his hat when the zip tie snapped off.
Sam is also in the band this year. Last year, after realizing that most of his friends had a lot of fun in the band, he decided to join. Problem was, he didn’t know how to play an instrument. Not really a problem, though. Every Thursday last year, Sam stayed after school and learned how to play the tuba.
Mr. Brasure, the band director, gives lessons after school one day a week to kids who need them. Mr. Brasure is the kind of teacher you wish for all your kids’ classes. He is fun and engaging and he truly enjoys the kids he works with. He’s awesome and one of the reasons so many kids in our school participate in band. Sam is hoping to learn saxophone this year as well, but for now, he plays the tuba – or more correctly the sousaphone.
As a 6-foot 4-inch kid, he carries his sousaphone well. I spent two days of my life this summer, making new covers for all the sousaphones this year. It was a labor of love and something I’m particularly proud of. I’m happy we will leave behind this little piece of us when we go.
True confession time, I’m not much of a football fan. I like the game well enough, but I don’t have the same connection to this community that most people do. This is our third year at the school, but we lived in the district only for the first year. I don’t know any of the football players and I only know one or two people in the stands. I enjoy sports more when I know the people involved, although I do love to watch the OSU/Michigan game every year. Go Bucks!
Tonight, as I’m sitting in the stands, though, it hits me. I get it. I get why people love this so much. The sun is just starting to fade as the game begins. Tonight is homecoming and the band is in formation on the field, softly playing as the homecoming court is escorted across the field with their parents. After the queen is announced, she thanks her family and friends then yells, “Go Colts!” The crowd rises as the color guard presents the colors.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars, along with their sons, present the colors as a drum and flute line follow behind playing Yankee Doodle Dandy. Hats are off, the crowd is silent and respectful as the color guard marches down the field. As the band plays the national anthem, people in the crowd join in singing, some quietly, others enthusiastically, and still others, like the lady right behind me, quite off-key. You can feel the respect for our nation during this few moments, though. Our government may be shut down, but pride in our country and our freedoms still rages on in this part of the USA.
As the band leaves the field, the sun is beginning to set and I snap a picture to share with Hubs, who’s already living 1,742 miles away from us. I want him to share in this night as much as he can. My thumbs get a good workout texting updates throughout the game. Since I’m alone in the stands, I have time to watch and absorb the experience.
I watch the little elementary school cheerleaders-in-training join with the junior high school and high school cheerleaders. Their sweet faces and enthusiastic cheers are a site to see and reminds me of the days when my daughter played at being a cheerleader. That’s part of the beauty that hits me. This is an event that unites the whole age spectrum of the community. Everything seems poignant and special and I just really appreciate the beauty of this night.
The game is a close one tonight. Points are traded back and forth and an early surge by the opposing team nearly dashes the hopes for the home team. But this year, we have some good players. It seems like our boys know what they are doing on the field and it’s fun to cheer them on. Even though it’s a good game, I’m really just biding my time in the stands. I’m waiting for half-time to see the band.
When the buzzer sounds the end of the half, I look down to the sidelines and watch a cheerleader drop her pom-poms and start assembling her trombone. I look over to the bench on the field and watch one of the players strip off his shoulder pads and dump them on the bench. He walks over to a quad set of drums, puts them on his shoulders and joins the drum line.
That’s one of the things I love about our band. All kids are welcome, even the athletes and the cheerleaders whose other responsibilities usually keep them from participating in band. Even kids, like Noah, who attend school at one of the local college programs are allowed to participate. The band starts up and this is the event I’m here for. I try to watch the whole band, but mostly I’m either looking for the tubas or I’m watching my son conduct. I’m listening to 50 Ways To Say You Died and I’m loving the experience.
Part of the former marching band girl in me wants to tell them to tighten their lines, but this band isn’t about competition, knees all raised to the same height and tight lines, although those always look nice. This is a band that focuses on a fun experience for the kids that play and for the people that watch.
Once the band is done, I head down to the snack bar to buy the boys some pizza and hot dogs and Gatorade. We visit for a few minutes and I tell them they were awesome. I end up spending the rest of the game on the sidelines talking to a couple of parents that I know. Hubs misses out on the rest of the game from me because I’m no longer watching.
Tonight is even more special because it’s the annual glow show. This is why I’m still here. Normally, I leave after halftime. Tonight I stay for the big event, but I’m missing Hubs and Katie because I know how much they’d love to see this. Ten minutes after the Colts win the game in a nail-bitter, the stadium lights are shut down and the band takes the field again.
This time, the band is covered in glow sticks and one tuba player has even figured out how to wrap Christmas lights around his body. The drill team lights their batons and the performance starts again. Across the field in the visitor stands, Chinese lanterns are sent aloft into the night. Song after song the glowing band marches around the field. Glow sticks fall to the ground but the band plays on. It’s a fun tradition and one we look forward to every year.
Noah carries a lighted mace he made in a college engineering class just for tonight. He finally turns it on to lead the band through a script Colts. The band forms a cluster on the back of the field and plays Hang On Sloopy. Noah is waving and twirling his lighted mace that creates a circle of different colored lights as it spins. The band spirals out from the cluster in a single file to spell out C-O-L-T-S and as they near the end of the marching, they strike up the school fight song. The lanterns are distant lights now as little children race onto the field to collect the dropped glow sticks.
After the performance the drums still play, drumming out a fun rhythm as the band members run around, throwing glow sticks and being the teenagers they are.
It is the perfect Friday night. Friends, family, football, cheerleaders, a homecoming queen, a color guard, pizza, root beer, floating lanterns and a marching band. That’s a fall Friday night in Bellville, Ohio.
By the next home game, I’m sure the weather will have turned. We’ll be wrapped in blankets, hats, coats and gloves. I will peel my gloves off every time I want to let out a whistle when the team scores a touchdown. We will burn our mouths on the hot chocolate from the stands. We will huddle close together and try to stay warm as we watch the game. It will be a less pleasant circumstances, but I will still be there, cheering on the band and the football team.