Saturday, September 7, 2013

Un - Pleasant - ries

Week 2 of the 2013 season brought the Pleasant Valley Raiders to Harlen Robinson Stadium on Friday night to open region play.

Just a few years ago, PV was known for losing streaks. They broke a 13 game streak in 1997 with a win over Bibb Graves High School. From 2003-2006, the Raiders lost 31 in a row. In their 32 seasons of playing football, PV has an all-time record of 82-229. But, they're getting better. In the last three seasons combined, the Raiders have won 12 games. Last season saw PV's largest margin of victory (55 pts) in school history. But the only statistic that mattered to the Ranburne faithful this week was the Dogs' 20-19 loss to the Raiders last season, a loss that effectively kept RHS out of the playoffs. The Ranburne fans showed up Friday night looking for a little revenge.

The Dogs took the opening kickoff, but fumbled on the first play from scrimmage. PV took advantage of the turnover and put 6 on the board, missing wide right on a PAT attempt. On their second possession, the offense got in their own way again with a pre-snap penalty on the first play. After starting 1st and 15, the Dogs were forced to punt.

After a stop by the Ranburne D, the offense began their 3rd possession at the PV 17 late in the first. This time they were able to put together a series of first downs and found themselves facing 4th and 2 from their own 9 yard line, down by 6 as the first quarter ended. 

QB Wiggins handed off to G.W. Caldwell to open the 2nd. Caldwell was met at the line but drove forward, collecting white jerseys and dragging them into the end zone. Touchdown Ranburne! The PAT was blocked, tying the score at 6. 

Both teams traded possessions without scoring. Then, PV mounted a drive and put 6 more on the scoreboard with 1:14 remaining in the half. The Raiders took the lead, but the dog fight was starting to wear on them. It was on this drive that I noticed a few of their players taking extra shots after the whistle. One in particular couldn't get off the ground without shoving our defender back into the grass. They seemed to gain a little momentum and some attitude to go with it.

But, the half wasn't over. Dylan Tullis took the kickoff all the way down to the PV 6 yard line. Two offsides penalties by the Raiders, 2 Ranburne timeouts, and 4 snaps later, the Dogs got into the end zone again for 6. A failed two-point conversion attempt sent both teams to the locker room tied at 12. 

I imagine the discussion the the visitors' locker room sounded something like this: "We get the ball first. Let's run it right at them, right up the middle, until they stop us." 

To open the 2nd half, PV handed the ball off up the middle for a 1st down, then again for another, and a third time for a TD. And when they got the ball back after a Bulldog punt, they handed it off again. This time, the back was met by a purple jersey for a 1 yd loss. 

It was definitely a dog fight. Neither team willing to yield. Neither team playing perfectly but doing what they had to in order to stay in the game. Several times, I thought our boys might be ready to lay down. They were hot. They were exhausted. But they never lost their cool. They still had some fight in them. So did the Raiders, but it was a slightly different kind of fight. 

They were overly nasty, but if you paid attention you could see it. It was in the way a PV defender clapped his hands in the face of a Ranburne Offensive lineman flagged for holding. It was in the way that their QB threw the ball in the face mask of the Bulldog player that hauled him down on a running play. And while those seem like little things, they could add up to something big. It has to do with sportsmanship.

Football is a violent, physical test of strength and will. I can only imagine how hard it is to keep your head on straight out there. But you have to. Players and coaches have to. You can't let things get to you. You have to respect the opposing team if you respect the game. It's not personal. Go at each other between the whistles. But when the game is over, you're all the same. 

Sportsmanship is on the forefront of our minds in Alabama this week in the wake of the post-game, sideline brawl between coaches at Walker and Cullman High Schools last week. And I believe the Walker coach said it best in his address to his former team: 

"You know that sportsmanship comes before the passion and emotions of the game." 

Sports can bring out the best and worst in people. I was proud of the sportsmanship and maturity displayed by the boys in purple last night. They weren't baited into fights by the other players. They didn't react or retaliate. They didn't have time; there was a game to win. And while the PV players showed a little frustration, they handled themselves respectably under the pressure.

When the clock hit zero, the teams were tied at 26. PV won the toss and elected to play defense first in OT. Two snaps later, Ranburne was in for 6. Kicker Jake Howle's PAT was good. 
The Ranburne sideline celebrates the OT win

But, it only took the Raiders 2 snaps to answer. PV had had all they wanted and decided to end the game right then by going for 2. Their QB took the snap and rolled left. He had nothing but green in front of him. He raced toward the end zone, but Devin Rehburg and Dalton Wiggins came from nowhere and met him on the 1. The 2-point conversion had failed. The game was over. Ranburne 33, PV 32.

Both teams and their coaches met at mid field for prayer. And as the Raiders headed to their dressing room, they were met by a crowd of Ranburne fans patting them on their backs, congratulating their efforts, wishing them luck. Sportsmanship, see. Remembering that those opponents you wanted to beat so badly on the field are just kids, like our kids, when the final play has ended. Despite the loss, they'd played hard. They deserved our respect. 

I overheard a PV cheerleader complain as she exited the field, rolling her eyes,  "Is all THIS really necessary?" This? This crowd of people waiting here to congratulate their team and yours? This display of respect and admiration and appreciation of these young men who had battled it out over the last 3 hours? This celebration of a hard-fought victory?

I wanted to say, "Yes, young lady, it absolutely is. And you'd do well to remember that."

Friday, September 6, 2013

The Alma Mater

On a hill in Alabam'
Life's beacon shining bright
The stately walls of Lineville High
Rise glorious to our sight

So here's to you, ol' Lineville High
Our Alma Mater true
We pledge in love and harmony
Our loyalty to you

It's been more years than I care to say since I stood at a pep rally with my 11 sisters in red and black and lead our student body in the singing of that alma mater, but I still know every word, every note. And, as I sang it on the field after the final football game of the season, I had know way of knowing that I would never hear it played again. Looking back, we didn't play it enough.

After the 2011-2012 school year, Lineville High School closed its doors forever, consolidating with that other high school in the county to form Central High School of Clay County...or some version of that name that was finally agreed upon. I'm not really sure. And, I assume they have a new alma mater, but it isn't "my" school, so I don't know.

I'd known about the consolidation for years, but I really didn't think much of it. Then, at the beginning of LHS's final year, I stood at a pep rally at another school. I listened to the coach talk about how Lineville had been "our" opening football game opponent for years and years, and this would be the last time that Cleburne County and Lineville would meet on the field. Then, the band begin to play the alma mater, and it hit me. I would never here "mine" again. I wish I had known that the last time would indeed be the last time. I might've cherished it a little more.

I thoroughly enjoyed my high school years. I was involved in many activities. I took pride in our collective accomplishments. I had fun. Then, I graduated and moved on with the rest of my life. And even though it's been years since I revisited the campus, there was something deeply sad about knowing my school is "gone". You just don't see that coming. You assume some things will always be there. And, I guess they will be. Some things you carry with you. And for those of us with Lineville on our diplomas, we will always be Aggies.

Since that day, each time I heard the CCHS alma mater, I took a minute to appreciate what it means. To me it's just one of the things that unifies a school body. We're a family. Or we should be. We spend more time with each other than we do with our own families. It should be a place where everyone feels safe and welcomed and loved. Even after they've graduated and moved away.

The last time I heard the alma mater at CCHS, I knew it would be the last time. As the notes hung in the air I took one last good look at the thing I loved about that school, the only thing I loved about it, my students. I felt a sadness that I wouldn't be there to watch my Juniors enjoy their year as kings and queens of the hill. But I needed to move on to a place where I felt safe and welcomed and appreciated.

So I found myself in a new "home" for the 2013-2014 school year. And, I couldn't help but feel like I was in the right place. On the first day of school, at the beginning of the first period of the day, a voice began the morning announcements by introducing the young lady who would sing our alma mater. We begin each morning the same way. And while I doubt that all of the students appreciate that, I can't help but think that, in time, they will.

Tonight, wherever you watch the local heroes take the field, if the band happens to play the alma mater, take a second and enjoy it. Don't ignore it. Take it in. For just a minute, be part of something bigger than yourself. And remember not to take things for granted. Because, just like my high school's song, you never know which time might be the last time.

Monday, September 2, 2013


The first game of the season is always a big deal. The crowd fills the stands with high expectations as they await their first real look at this year's squad.

The team is ready too. They've spent a summer sweating and running and lifting. They've spent the last few weeks going at each other in the August heat. They are more than ready to hit someone wearing a different color. They've got the whole season ahead of them. All goals are still obtainable. Dreams are alive.

This year's Ranburne Bulldogs took the field in the season opener against the Mt. Zion Eagles. From the stands, it looked like any game you might see in any small, Alabama town. Nothing earth-shattering happened. Just two teams going head-to-head.

photo credit: Susan Shadinger
Ranburne took the opening kick-off and drove down the field to begin the game. The the Eagles answered with a scoring drive of their own, tying the game at 6-6 in the first. The two teams traded touchdown drives again before the half, sending the Dogs to the locker room up by a PAT, 13-12.

Mt. Zion's offense kept the ball for most of the second half, but they were unable to find the end zone. And, their defense was unable to hold off the Dogs as they punched it in for a 4th quarter TD, giving them a 20-12 lead. MZHS had the ball late in the fourth with a chance to mount a drive. The Dogs D wouldn't let that happen. They forced a turnover on downs, bringing the Ranburne offense back to the field for the victory formation. Final 20-12, Ranburne.

They didn't look great. But, they got the all-important first win. All goals still obtainable; dreams are still alive.

While it looked like your average game from the stands, it was anything but on the field. For the guys in the purple jerseys, there are no average games. They're out there lying it on the line for their teammates, their school, their community while we sit in the stands and laugh and talk and cheer. We see the results of the plays, the scores, the turnovers, the stops. But we don't always fully appreciate the effort these guys give. If we did, we'd cheer a little harder, I think.

I watched those guys Friday night. I watched as young men played offense and defense. There really is something about small town football you won't see in bigger places. Those guys give their all for 4 quarters, with little or no rest. I watched as one player switched back and forth from receiver to corner, constantly running without rest because there was no one who could go in for him. He was tired. He needed a break. But he had to stay in because someone else was hurt. And he stayed in. He never let up. In a society full of quitters, how can you not admire that?