Here in North Carolina, high school wrestling (folk style) is not a popular sport. But the participants and their fans are resigned to that and share an almost religious dedication and appreciation to the sport. This past weekend was sandwiched by two high school dual meets, one on Friday night and then one on Monday night. Both meets revealed more than good sportsmanship, the fantastic fans of the sport, and the athletic skill of the wrestlers gained through hard physical and mental work; both showed community as a verb.
On a January Friday night I drove to the high school from which I graduated in 1964. The wrestling team of the town in which I now live was competing there, and I met two of my high school teammates to watch the meet. The school athletic director met us and gave us a pre- and post-match tour of the athletic facilities. While showing us the impressive weight room, the athletic director told me that he had originally been hired as a teacher/coach by one of the teammates with me that night. That was only the beginning because all through the dual meet and afterwards, people would approach the same white-haired fellow and shake his hand, often hugging him, and energetically talking. All the accolades I heard about him that night showed how highly respected he still was for his years as a teacher, administrator, and coach. What I witnessed was a community acting as a verb to commend one of its own.
The following Monday match was at my hometown school against its big rival, and it was senior night as well. The rivalry, like so many between two near-by schools, is intense, so I wanted to attend even though it was my wife’s birthday. (She agreed to my going but insisted on her birthday dinner the next night.) The school pep band played before the match began, a long-time teacher/coach of the school was recognized for twenty years of service, a student group (like Make-A-Wish Foundation) made a presentation to a youngster with special needs, and the seniors with their parents were introduced. Just like on Friday night, I witnessed community acting as a verb to applaud its own.
Participation, not success, is important for all youngsters. Yes, winning a chess tournament or swim meet or cross-country race or band competition is nice, but when we encourage (require?) participation outside the classroom for our students, we open other opportunities of community for them, and while winning is desired, it becomes secondary to being part of something larger than him or herself. In participation outside the regular school day, students are exposed to different stimuli than that of the classroom and its teachers. All classes, from bricklaying to calculus, are similar, but when a student steps out of that comfort cycle, that common routine, a new experience emerges. In the classroom students compete against each other for grades, but in those, to use my time period’s name for them, extra-curricular activities, students learn what it means to be depended upon by others. Suddenly the old adage “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link” carries new weight and a sense of community (team) as a noun is born. But what I witnessed both nights was community as a verb, and it shows what we can accomplish when we come together to celebrate achievements that may not be big wins, but are reflections of our character.