August has been an incredibly gratuitous month. Following on the heels of July, which was acclaimed as one of the hottest on record, the weather took a delightful turn this month and we have enjoyed cool mornings and temperate days with a lot of sunshine. But the cool evenings have fed a craving in the souls of Southwest Virginians for football. It feels like football weather.
Towns in this region have long rallied around the gridiron. The high schools in the region have trophy cases filled with hard-won prizes for games played by teenage boys under the direction of legendary coaches. The coveted state championships have been won in several places across the region, and continue to be the most sought-after prize.
Friday nights in fall are social occasions. High School alumni return to remember, and become re-acquainted with old friends and teachers, and neighbors. Bands and cheerleaders get pumped with school spirit, and crowds get carried away as the drama of the game unfolds. It is not just a game, it is a lifestyle.
I was raised in the environs of the town of Gate City, Virginia, where you could gather at Legion Field, a stadium with concrete stands on both sides, positioned in clear view of the beauty of the Clinch Mountain range. To the east you could see a little stone church with a simple pointing steeple. To the west you could view the town of Gate City with its court house cupola and several church spires. On an autumn evening the bright harvest moon would shine down upon the game with a beauty unmatched. At the ends of the field you could find the emergency vehicles parked beside a steam-driven whistle. Let that ball be carried across the goal line by a Blue Devil athlete and the steam would blow through the whistle with a glorious roar of the crowd.
The cheer leaders would gather and form two parallel lines from the side of the field where they expected the players to emerge at the beginning of the game, a large paper sign crossing the end of the line. The blue and white uniforms would suddenly appear, the crowd to its feet, and the players would burst through the sign like popcorn. The national anthem, before it was outlawed a prayer from one of our area ministers, then the flip of a coin, and the game would begin.
What these athletes didn’t realize was that for most of them this would be their glory days. As they graduated, found jobs and married and raised families, some of them had the opportunity to contribute a second generation to the team. Others moved to other areas, but would sometimes return to take in a game or two.
A statue in front of the high school depicts a football player clutching the ball, ready to gain yardage. A professor of mine at college used to seriously mock what he called a grave misappropriation of purpose with that statue. But it represents our yearning to achieve, to work for improvement, and to win the game before us.
As the weather patterns set the tone for the season, let us gather at the field and join the spirit of the game. It is our way of life here.
- Historic weekend – Beaver-Graham kicks off activities (bdtonline.com)