Wednesday, March 5, 2014

There's a place we hold dearest of all

It appears that my old high school is about to take one final gasp and then cease to exist.

After years of rumors about when consolidation would finally engulf dear Norphlet High School, the first real steps are beginning to be taken. In fewer than two years, Norphlet will likely be swallowed by the Smackover school district.

I truly want to be sad about this.

Just yesterday, voters in the Norphlet school district let their voices be heard. I'm not certain what people were expecting but more than 70 percent confirmed that consolidation with the Battlin' Buckaroos of Smackover High was indeed the right decision. I'm proud of them for making what I think is the only logical decision but I also understand the hurt of those who have fought this so hard for so long.

A little background is needed.

Depending on where one happens to be standing, the towns are separated by fewer than five miles.

There's a football rivalry that dates back to (I'm too lazy to actually look it up) the 1920s, I believe. I remember being a part of this rivalry. I remember coloring pictures in my second grade classroom and marching single-file to the football field (about 60 yards away) to tape them on the pipe fencing that surrounded the field. I'm guessing our support wasn't enough as Smackover won that game, 7-6.
The towns are eerily similar. Smackover's population, though, has remained higher than Norphlet's through the years (it's currently 1800 to 800 ... approximate numbers). Smackover has a stop light.

One can drive straight through Norphlet unimpeded.

The hub of each town? Obviously, the schools. I think that's where this begins to hit home.

I've seen other towns where schools have consolidated - either forced by the state or by their own choosing before the state steps in to make the decision for them. In every case I've witnessed, it's been a sad sight for the town that "loses" its school. I've watched towns become shells of what they once were when the local high school is relocated.

The plan is to make use of all the existing facilities. The idea I've heard is to keep the elementary schools as they are - one in each town - and the junior high would meet in Norphlet, the senior high at Smackover.

It might be hard to believe but I'd be willing to bet that five years down the road, no one thinks twice about the arrangement.

Still, my mind flashes back to Homecoming parades through downtown Norphlet. For what in reality was about a four-block stretch, the parade seemed to go on forever. So many students manned the floats that one would wonder who was left to watch. The streets, though, would be packed. Oilfield workers would come in early from the job. The few businesses in town would either close or throw open the doors, welcoming the activity.

I see old men sitting on the bench outside Alphin's Grocery on a Saturday morning in the fall, discussing the previous night's football game.

I see inside the post office. Box 406. And I know there are old friends reading this who remember their box number. And some who likely still have theirs.

We needed only to dial four numbers to call each other on the phone. To call Smackover, at least back then, was considered long-distance.

Several years ago, when my girls were old enough to take it all in, I took them on a tour of Norphlet. I pointed out the library and my oldest couldn't contain the laughter. I don't think I bothered to tell her it wasn't the entire building, just one section of it.

Now, I'm a big-school guy. I've watched my daughters excel in schools that probably would have frightened me. There were more students in my daughter's senior class than in my high school. As we drove through Norphlet, though, there was a part of me that wished they could understand.

It's a neat thing to know every single person in your school. Not only that, most people knew everyone - and their parents.

The week of the annual Norphlet-Smackover football game was almost bigger than the week of Homecoming. Events would be planned during lunch each day. Spirit days were common. Chants of "Buck Meat" were heard up and down the hallways. I'm fairly certain the intensity level at Smackover was matching ours.

Admittedly, nearly 30 years later, it seems quite silly.

But it's not when you're 16.

If someone had told me 30 years ago that I'd be leaving everything I'd known - and that I would now be expected to be classmates with the very people I'd been trained to try to beat in every imaginable contest - I wouldn't have taken it too well.

The advantage of being an adult is that I can look at this situation now and tell current Norphlet students that everything is actually going to be OK.

And, in 30 years or so, you'll look back and wonder what the big deal was.

"We'll clasp thee close in our thoughts and hearts ..."

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