Thursday, October 8, 2009

School consolidation likely to end long-standing football rivalry, and hasten town's demise

I commented here a few weeks ago on a story linking the well-being of a small town to that of its high school football team. Today's New York Times features another such story, but this time the news is bad--for town and team. Ray Glier writes:
Consolidation, the end chapter for small-town high schools caught in economic strife, has found its way into the coalfields of southwest Virginia. In Appalachia, most of the storefronts in the business district are empty. There is no cellphone service because the town cannot get a cellphone tower built.
In his story, "Appalachian Team Faces Final Generation of Football," Glier explains that Appalachia High School, with 225 students, will likely merge next year with Powell Valley High's 525 students. The latter school is in Big Stone Gap," population 4,856. Appalachia's population is 1,839. Both are in Wise County, Virginia, population 41,123.

Glier writes that the schools and their respective towns are "divided by geography--big coal-bearing hills," but just three miles apart. The towns' essence, he asserts, "is a reliance on coal and Friday night high school football." Between them, the two schools have won 14 Class A State championships since 1970. But residents--especially of Appalachia--are fighting the consolidation. In the words of one Appalachia High School teacher, the county school board will “keep trying to close us down, and we’ll keep fighting. They would kill this community with consolidation.”


CityMouse said...

This reminds me of a conversation I was having with my friend's dad this weekend in Reno. He is a soccer referee, and works four or five games a week. Sometimes he goes over to Sparks, Nevada, a fairly sizable town, or travels to other fairly local Nevada suburbs. But invariably, once a week he has to go out to the "country" as he called it to referee soccer games. He sometimes goes to Lovelock, Nevada. I looked it up and this has a population of 2,003 people. Other times he goes all the way to Carlin, Nevada, a population of 2,161. Apparently, the number of fans, the excitement over these games, and the general support of the games and reliance on them for entertainment was unequivocally higher in these rural high schools than in Reno. I think it's interesting that something as simple as high school sports can really make or break a town's morale. On a side note, when Carlin High School plays Galena High School (in Reno), the Carlin players have to travel FIVE HOURS on a school night to get to the games and play. They go straight home afterwords. Talk about diminished capacity for learning the next day...maybe this is why only rural knowledge = stupid knowledge.

Spec said...

The reaction shouldn't come as a surprise. I think it was Mao who said that religion was the opiate of the people but I think that has changed to sports. Even my high school, (the population of my hometown was around 3000 when I left in 1991) spent more money on its football team then all of the arts and science programs combined...and we were terrible...just terrible. The varsity squad had 2 wins and 38 losses in my four years, yet the school district poured money into a new field, new grandstands, etc because it brought money in through concessions and tickets. I wonder if there is a correlation between cultural/socio-economic status/identity and obsession with sports at the high school level. Texas aside, it would be interesting to know if this level of obsession, this "you can't take away our football!!!" mentality is linked to place or culture.