On my bucket list, right after surfing the Bonsai Pipeline, I'm going to add, "Seeing Storm Lake High School's Tornado Fieldhouse filled for a sports event."
I look forward to covering games there. Win or lose, the teams leave heart, soul and sweat on that honey-colored floor, and the school's dancers, cheerleaders and band members do a great job of turning every game into an entire event.
So, why are the stands half-empty (and that's putting it kindly) and why do visiting teams driving from an hour away sometimes bring a bigger and louder crowd than we as the home community muster?
I know, I know, hometown support or lack thereof is something you're not supposed to mention in my business. But good sense has never been my strong suit. Storm Lake needs to do a better job supporting the home team.
At the last home game of the season Tuesday night, and I am not exaggerating, a kid in the band section was having a conversation with another in the student section all the way on the opposite side of the floor, during the game. That's how quiet it was.
Speaking of the band, they were just killing it Tuesday. Storm Lake's music program is awesome from the elementary on up to the high school. If none of the basketball teams showed up, I'd come just for that concert. With some guitar introduced into the lineup, the horn section in perfect sync and students trading places on the drums and other rythym instruments banging away with all-out enthusiasm, I feel sorry for you if you missed all that joyful noise.
By the way, Rylee James is my new hero. After coming back from an injury to play basketball like a demon for long minutes against a much bigger, taller squad in her last career home game, she hit the locker room about long enough to throw on a t-shirt and shorts, and still in her basketball socks and shoeless, came jetting back out into the stands, piccolo in hand, in time to join in playing the fight song to wrap up the warm-up for the boys. That's living life, man. That's Bonsai Pipeline stuff.
And what about that dance team? They came prancing out at the half of the girls game with a high-energy, traditional routine that was a show all in itself, then rushed off, totally switched costuming and style, and came back for the boy's break with a creative, more freestyle offering that was nothing short of stunning.
All they were missing is the crowd that should have been there to enjoy it. All of this stuff - a Storm Lake game is a real happening! What do these kids have to do to get people in the stands, stage a circus for you?
Of course, the parents are there, and a few die-hard supporters, faithful and as constant as the weather. For a school of this size, the student section is sadly small, but a small core of kids come out every game and do their best to support their teams, and should be appreciated for it.
I get it. This is a blue-collar town where a whole lot of families don't have the luxuries of time and money. Some people who would probably like to attend games, no doubt, are working second jobs or night shifts at the plants. I'm guessing a lot of students who might like to enjoy basketball games, dance routines and music are also at jobs late into the night, trying to help out their families, or taking responsibility to care for younger siblings while parents are working.
As band director Jason Heeran says, "I always tell the kids that they will have their whole lives to work - they only have a short time for school activities."
Please, employers, make sure if you schedule teenagers to work, that you give them a chance to get homework done, and attend some school events too. They might not feel they can ask you - so ask them! You can learn a lot from work, but being a part of sports and music and dance and cheerleading and all the other activities matter, too.
Yes, we're a two-high school town, and that splits the crowds on a lot of nights. St. Mary's fills their gym and I love their games too. Can't be two places at once. I get it.
I'm sick of the old excuse though that Storm Lake can't draw crowds because we have high numbers of minorities. Bull. Take a look at our basktball teams - they are like a little United Nations of hoops. Not that it should matter, but there are caucasian, African Amercian, Hispanic, Asian American and more on the SLHS floor every night. There's no reason the stands shouldn't be the same.
Yeah, I know, it's cold out. You live in Iowa in the winter, get over it. Yeah, I know, construction around the school make parking a hassle. Cry me a river. I see cancer patients there, I see elderly great-grandparents. If they can manage it, so can the rest of us.
In those places with a great culture of sports support and school spirit, people who have no connection with the school or the students turn out. A local ball game is part of the fabric of the community, it's the place to be.
You don't build a sports identity with a fancy weight room or the newest uniforms. You build it with excitement and constant support and packed gyms no matter what the records are. With guys teams that come out early to cheer the girls, and girls who stick around to scream for the guys. You build it with tons of snot-nosed little kids running around driving people nuts at every game, thrilled when the players pay them some attention; a kindness they'll pay back when they are the stars in 10 or 12 years.
Do yourself a favor - hit some games. Be a part of things. Bring a little kid. Bring grandma. Back your Tornadoes, Panthers and Beavers. Our students deserve that. Yell a little; a feels good to be alive, doesn't it?
Bonsai, Storm Lake. Bonsai.