This week is Homecoming Week for the Hill City Rangers, a time of celebration, fun, pyrotechnics, costumes and copious amounts of candy. And if an alien were to drop down in the middle of this delirium, and if I were tasked with explaining what we are doing and why to the miraculously-proficient-in-English extra-terrestrial, I think I would get stuck quickly. To start, we have the name: Homecoming. I believe this to be a traditional name that stuck around after its practical relevance left. I am told that at one time the game was always the first home game and people would actually go back to their hometowns to see it. Never do I remember witnessing this. However, I do remember one year that my school had to change which game week would be the chosen one because the soccer team was out of town for the original selection. The result was that, instead of dominating a weak team in front of the biggest crowd of the season, we were pummeled by one of the best teams in the state and may have briefly fallen asleep in the gym bleachers during the dance as we suffered the after-effects of exhaustion and spectacular failure.
I doubt that would clear up much for our alien friend, though. So I would then move on to the game itself: football, a sport unique to America. It’s pretty darn fun as far as games go. You get to run around and slam into people. Plus, there is a clear winner and loser at the end. As all great games do, it tests preparation and stamina, both physical and mental. It demands a player be individually strong but harness that strength to function within a larger team concept. I think the alien would get that.
But we are still left with the most important question: why? Why pour so much time and resources into something so fleeting? The answers to that are about as numerous as the participants. Some do it for the glory, to have people cheer for and congratulate you. Some do it for the release, to be in a situation where the rules of polite society don’t necessarily apply. Some do it for pure joy. Some will come to the game just to get out of the house and say hi to some friends. And for many of us it’s the combination.
But eventually we can dig through all that to the underlying truth of all sports, be it football or knowledge bowl (which if you have not witnessed, I highly recommend. It has every bit as much drama, and your local team happens to be rather stout). The games themselves end up not being all that important. Because the game is short lived, but the people aren’t.
So we throw ourselves all in. We grill the meat and sip the hot chocolate and make the signs. The players lift the weights and run the sprints and do the drills. And we hope they have the self-awareness to see the long view. Because it’s better to learn the difference between being assertive and being passive on a football field now than in a conference room later. It’s better to learn the value of individual contribution to a team effort on a volleyball court now than later on when more than a game is at stake. And if there was ever a time to feel the sting of regret, knowing you could have done more but chose not to, this would be it. Of course a game can’t definitively fix a person, but it provides an opportunity to grow.
So I hope to see you there Friday night around the field or Thursday night in the gym as the volleyball girls (who have been doing Hill City proud all season) have a big game. Or if daytime events are your thing then you should watch our girls compete for a second consecutive conference championship in Custer on Thursday. Maybe we’ll say hi and enjoy a ranger dog or one of Mr. Christian’s burgers; I don’t know. But I’m certain we’ll see some quality young people, coached by very quality if slightly less young people, working hard together and hopefully learning a thing or two along the way.