Somewhere in my house there is a large photo album. Real, physical pictures fit into narrow plastic sleeves, telling my family’s story. If you look at one of the earlier pictures, you can see a small boy at a football game, wearing a much-too-big t-shirt and an oversized ball cap. It's Friday night, the lights are out. The boy stands at the rail, midfield, taking in the scope of the scene. His father stands beside him. He wears a shirt that he has owned many years, keeping it all this time from when he himself suited up on the very field his eldest son now ogles. Their looks and mannerisms are not their only common trait this night. Boy and man, father and son, both are adorned in evergreen, a gold cougar upon their simple cotton shirts.
I grew up going to JCM football games. Other pictures provide evidence of a time when friends, stereotypes, and school allegiances did not prohibit my recurring attendance. In those days, before Madison, before Liberty, it was a simpler time. Kids went to their zoned schools. They played on the football team, and thousands came to watch the real athletes on the field. I was one of those people. So were my mother and brothers, as well as my father, who played JCM football and was pretty good at it, too. I remember many pickup games in the area beyond the end zone, my first real encounters with boys my age—in all other ways similar, yet very much different. I was too young to understand the blatant differences between us. I didn’t care what they looked like compared to me. If they could run and catch, that’s all that mattered. Those kids now are the ones under the lights, making the highlight reel, getting in the photo galleries. I watch them, just as I watch my youngest brother, holding his own in the same pickup games, the ghosts interplaying with the shadows beyond the Friday night lights.
Recently there has been a lot of talk and (honestly) confusion about what our school system will look like in the fall of 2016. I will be newly gone, a freshman once again, yet many of my friends will remain. My brothers will remain. My pickup game teammates will remain. While it would be easy for me to not care, to let the adults make the decisions, I cannot help but worry about it all. Talk of schools closing, where my friends experienced childhood, fill the halls of my high school—one whose existence is also in question. Uncertainty, confusion, anger—these emotions crawl inside my mind. I look out the window and see the crosswalk, the same crosswalk my dad walked, the very same the class of 1972 walked—brave souls in a dangerous new world. I shudder at the proposition that all this could go away, that so much history and story could be sacrificed at the hands of money, pride, and misunderstanding. Schools close and open, change or thrive. Superintendents are hired, then retired. Zones, jerseys, names, and games—these all change on the axis that is life. But people don’t. Kids don’t. Communities don’t. The same kids I played with so many years ago will always be there, appearing and disappearing from behind the same crumbling cinderblock walls. They have always been there. They will always be there. What will they grow up with? Will the same Friday night lights illuminate their spin moves and lucky catches? Some say no, that everything is changing, for the betterment of everyone. I have no comment to that. I just stare out the window, wondering where they are and what will become of the boys, now young men, who were my Friday night teammates.
Samuel Tilleros is a senior at Madison Academic High School, where he enjoys writing for the Galloping Gazette and running cross country and track for the Mustangs. He hopes to either be teaching high school history or be a contributing writer for the magazine Outside for a career.
Header image by Ericka Hamilton.