There was a large crowd at the high school football game I attended last Friday night. It was an enjoyable game, even though the team I supported lost. The fans from both teams were really into the game. Well, almost all of the fans.
As I sat watching the game, I noticed the steady procession of young folks going by down below the stands where we sat. It seemed like most of them were in in the pre-teen and early teen age category. I’m sure most of them didn’t have a clue about what was going on out on the football field. They were kids being kids. I thought back to when I was their age. I was not that much different from them. But the times were much different. (Yes, this is another one of those “good ol’ days” stories. But, hopefully, it will have a message for today.)
How were things different back then for me? Well, first of all, Clement High School didn’t even have a football team. Clement went from the first grade all the way to the twelfth grade. It was a small school. Everybody knew everybody. Most of the kids knew the high school students, and most of the high school students knew those in the lower grades.
But Clement did have a basketball and baseball team. At basketball games, we kids would roam around just like those kids at the football game. Of course, that was difficult, since the Clement gym was very small. Other schools called our gym, “The Barn.” Back then, Clement high played their home baseball games in the afternoon, right after school. As a kid, I would often stay after school to “watch” the game. Well, we would catch some of the baseball game. But often, my friends and I would roam around the school grounds, exploring. I can remember watching a game from the second floor of the old run down Woodman building along the edge of left field. After the game, a friend’s parent, or a neighbor, would carry me back home.
Looking back, it all seems so innocent, and it was. No one back then thought about what could possibly go wrong. There was no need to. (Except for the possibility of some young boys falling out the second story window in an old building.)
That has changed, because our culture has changed. I was concerned the other night about what might could happen to those young kids going back and forth during the football game. What if they strayed into the wrong area and ran into the wrong people? Seeing police officers at the game wearing bulletproof vests was reassuring, but in its own way, troubling.
Yes, the culture has changed. Peggy Noonan, the eloquent writer, who wrote speeches for President Reagan, commented on this subject in a recent column for the CNN website. In her column, “An old-fashioned childhood: Nobody killed us,” she writes about her childhood life, which, like mine, seems so foreign and so different than that which kids are facing today.
Noonan writes, “The point of course is that while I was not quite protected as a child, the prevailing American culture itself at that point still functioned as a protective force. Things hadn’t been let loose to such a degree. The messages, permissions, incitements and inducements of the culture were not rough, lowering, frightening.”
The kids that I saw at the football game the other night are not that much different from the way I was at that age. Or the way Peggy Noonan was at that age. Or the way you probably were at that age. But the world they live in is much different.
Peggy Noonan closes her column by expressing her concern for those young kids of today. Maybe it should be our concern, also. She writes, “Here is my concern. There are not fewer children living stressed, chaotic lives in America now — there are more. There will be more still, because among the things America no longer manufactures is stability. And the culture around them will not protect them, as the culture protected me. The culture around them will make their lives harder, more frightening, more dangerous. They are going to come up with nothing to believe in, their nerves essentially shot. And they’re going to be — they are already — very angry.”
Mac McPhail, raised in Sampson County, lives in Clinton and can be reached at [email protected]