Thursday, March 03, 2016

A Salute To Small Towns

My entries tend to be on the spiritual side; I guess that's why they're called devotionals. This one does not have the same type of emphasis but it's about home and home is a Biblical concept. Both the girls and boys basketball teams from my home town have qualified to play in the STATE TOURNAMENT in Lincoln. In big cities like Houston, kids change schools like Paris Hilton swaps outfits. That was not the case in Nebraska and it made a difference. This is from 12-2-05.

My alma mater opens its basketball season tonight. The York High Dukes from York, Nebraska are hosting the Centennial Broncos. It's the same season opener as when I was in high school several years ago. Centennial was the first consolidated school I remember, combining kids from the tiny communities of Waco, Beaver Crossing, and Utica, its name coming in honor of Nebraska's 100th year of statehood. Rules governing high school athletics were so much different in Nebraska than in Texas. We could not play games before December 1st. In contrast, our girls' varsity team at Westbury Christian will have played sixteen contests before the 7:30 opening tip off at YHS this evening. I may have been as nervous the day of my first senior game as I have ever been. Never had I anticipated anything as much as that campaign. Everything was important to me: our new shoes, our new uniforms, Hub Foster announcing the starting lineups, how we slapped hands during the introductions- everything. We won that night and despite crippling injuries, we finished the year ranked 6th in Nebraska in Class B. Our ultimate goal of playing in Lincoln in the State Tournament fell by the wayside, one of the most crushing disappointments I've experienced. There were eight seniors that year: Bryson Braasch, Randy Georges, Don Knipfel, Jerry Larsen, Scott Naber, Ron Sawtell, Dan Leininger, and myself. We had grown up together, some through elementary school, all through junior high. After winning only six games as juniors, we learned how to win, infinitely more complicated than simply improving. That long ago December night marked the beginning of three of the best months of my life.

There is something about living in a small town that people from big cities miss. I feel sorry for my students who have only lived in Houston, a metropolis of 4,000,000. There is a sense of community that can't be defined to those who have not enjoyed it. I knew from the time I was little that I would go to York High and I would be a Duke. I watched from the balcony of the York City Auditorium as a boy, watching players like Keith Staehr and Jim Nixon grace the hardwoods, hoping it would be me someday. Like all loyal Dukes, I stood each time the band struck up the fight song, "Onward to Victory," which strangely was the same tune as "Anchors Aweigh." In a small town, everybody goes to fairs, parades, pageants, and high school ball games. The hometown newspaper, in this case, the York News-Times, becomes the official source of all information; births, deaths, arrests, weddings, hospital reports, and high school sports. I devoured the sports section as a boy and never quite got used to my name and picture being on those pages. I developed a sense of responsibility of playing for the town. Kids in private schools or metropolitan public schools don't feel that sense of civic duty. I believe it meant more to us then, because there were fewer options and extracurriculars making demands on our time. Some of our boys at WCS have played in eighty AAU basketball games over the summer, often changing teams and uniforms in the process. There was only one team for me and blue and gold were the only acceptable colors. (Our technical colors were 'buff and blue' but that was just a long forgotten formality.) That April day when I first wore my letter jacket, which had to be earned according to strict standards, was one of the proudest days I have known. The thermometer might have read 80 degrees but that was not going to stop me. The Y on that long-since faded jacket symbolized, to me at least, that I was part of the fabric and history of that one particular town. When people ask me where I live, I say Houston. But when they ask where I'm from, I tell them Nebraska. Bob Gibson, Johnny Carson, General John J. Pershing, William Jennings Bryan, and me- Nebraska boys. Indiana native John Mellencamp sang, 

"I cannot forget from where it is that I come from."
His English was mangled but his sentiment was flawless. So, to those kids taking the floor tonight for good old York High School, especially whoever wears the #32 my brother and I both played in, remember you are playing for more than yourselves. You're playing for guys you will never meet, including one Nebraska expatriate in Houston, Texas.

Onward to victory, onward York High.
This let our motto be
That we will fight and win
Fight, then, and do your best
Fight for the goal.
We'll try to do the rest
We're with you and we'll boost you heart and soul!

Applicable quote of the day:
"I hate small towns because after you've seen the cannon in the park, there's nothing else to do."
Lenny Bruce

God bless,
Luke 18:1
E-mail me at


Deb Pemberton said...

I love it when you blog about York! It brings back so many great memories. The city of Peoria is about the size of Lincoln, maybe larger, and I think of how different it would have been to raise my boys in a small town. Sometimes I feel they have missed out. This past September I took my family to a Nebraska football game. My husband and I sat next to this gentleman. He asked my husband what town in Nebraska were we from and my husband told him that I grew up in York, that we were here from Peoria for the game. He smiled at me and I asked him where he was from. He said Seward and I started laughing. I said..."I remember when you guys used to thrown rubber ducks down onto the basketball court!" He laughed and said, "heck...I remember when we use to throw LIVE ducks down onto the basketball courts!" We both laughed. Thanks again for a wonderful walk down memory lane!

Tim Stephens said...

Growing up in York was fantastic. Lots of fun...and I still am in contact with all of my High School Friends.

There is no place like NEBRASKA! :)

Elizabeth Mahlou said...

Dropping in to wish you a blessed Advent.