I have to start by saying I will avoid addressing the elephant in the room on this one for legal purposes, but I’m a slick conversationalist. Opening your eyes now-a-days should not be done by the faint of heart. It’s grim and scary, taking that look around. I have never been accused of being the brightest crayon in the box, so I did it anyway. I see loss, and a lot of it.
Everyone can see the big losses we have suffered in the area; employment, industrialization, family values, and community. The list trickles all the way down to safety and could probably keep on going, but I looked away at that point. It was just too much to stomach. Forgive me for getting deep here and straying away from comical and uplifting but I’m just not feeling it today.
Neitchze said, “He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster.And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.”
Well I am looking and can feel that piercing stare looking right back. This cranky mood of mine can be blamed entirely on nostalgia. A desire for yesterday. How did I get there you may ask? Well it’s from becoming a sports reporter I would answer. I may be alone on some of these opinions but I’m still going to spread them out on this white blank page like warm butter.
Covering multiple schools during any sporting season gives a unique opportunity to absorb the environment surrounding a team. There are always tiny differences between visiting each team. The fans are different from school to school, pride is different from school to school, and the players are different from school to school. Each little community surrounding a team is unique in their own special way. That’s where my nostalgia comes into play, I keep remembering the days when we were all small schools with our own atmosphere. each small gym had the feel of it’s own giant coliseum, we were all a lot smaller back then anyway.
Gilbert, Matewan, Burch, Williamson. Phelps, Belfry, Feds Creek, Pikeville. We started moving forward, or so we thought; with consolidation. Attending the games today doesn’t feel like the same atmosphere we played in a decade or more ago. Feds Creek used to have this chicken wire they had stretched along the upper level bleachers in their gym. That was the banister, it was reinforced with 2×4’s, but it was still a unique detail. Growing up in Phelps we always referred to that gym as the Chicken Coup, and joked that it was the gates of Hell because it was always close to a hundred degrees in there. That place always reminded me of some grungy cock fight, with smoke everywhere, loud yelling, where only one would walk out alive. Needless to say, the environment made our slow-paced AAU games that much more interesting to play in. Every school had something unique that made them a special place to play.
There is no more sneaking over to the neighboring school and painting some smack talk on the town’s train trestle supports. I’m not admitting to doing that but it was a thing. Okay, I may have shaken up the cans but that’s as far as I’m going. We have gotten away from all of that. Maybe it’s for the best but I still miss it.
Consolidated schools have offered children a lot of different opportunities and an array of new opportunities they never would have encountered before. Instead of the state having to pay multiple schools in one certain area, a different amount of money, because of that school’s performance during a certain point in time, it’s more cost effective to group the students together and pay one big school. I can see that from a business perspective. However, I long for the old gyms of yesteryear. I miss the packed houses during the 60th District playoffs. I miss the rivalry of Matewan versus Burch. I just don’t see it now. Maybe the rivalries have moved from the floor to the stands.
Coupled with the current economic situation, these little epiphanies seem all the more grim to me. Recruiting has become a thing, which hinders the growth of any school left outside the consolidation circle. It seems like the competition has moved from players to schools. While the fact remains we all still live in the same place and face the same problems. However, a quick history lesson will prove it’s always been survival of the fittest.
Nostalgia is funny that way. I’m sure there were multiple problems I couldn’t see that I was younger. Maybe it was the same problems just spread out in multiple areas. I can’t answer that with certainty. All I can say is that it doesn’t feel the same anymore. Maybe the kids are tired of waking up at first shift hours to make it to school almost two hours later, learn all day, go to practice, then travel almost two hours home. I have no answers, only questions.
Sports have always been a huge part of my life. My dad was screaming at me when I was two years old, for playing in the infield sand instead of waiting for the other kid to hit the ball off the tee. All I knew at that point was that if I stay here away from my mother long enough they would give me cookies and a big cup of red juice. And I wanted that cup of red juice; I had sand in my mouth. Sports have always been something to fall back on during hard times, an escape from reality. I’m afraid that sports may have become reality for an area that really doesn’t have anything left.
One answer I do have is if you attend a ball game and the cheerleaders instruct you to give them a win, win, win, you shout it, and don’t worry about who catches you on camera doing it. The only way to start a trend is to do what no one else is doing.
(William Plaster is the sports reporter for the Williamson Daily News, he can be reached at 304-235-4242 ext. 2274 or at [email protected] or on twitter @sidplaster)