A Short Study Of The Pep Rally
Welcome to a trip back in time
When I was a teenager in 1967, I would cringe with I heard old-timers use this term, "In my day," because that made them appear very ancient. Outdated. Ready to be 'put out to graze.' I swore in my heart at that time, that I would either not live long enough to say, 'in my day,' or just not say that term altogether. When you are young, the future is a few thousand light years away. Life is sweet.
I came from a rural country school. That being said. We didn't have pep rallies. We didn't even have a baseball, football, or volleyball team. No sports. There was't funds in the operating budget for such trivial things. So I just kicked along living my young life the best I could and never let it cross my mind that there was a 'train coming down the tracks of life' heading straight for me called: Junior High School, a deceptive little mistress. Elusive in all of her ways. An entity that, if challenged, can send a young boy or girl down the pathway to being labelled an outcast. A leper. Someone no one wants to be associated with in any way.
I attended my first pep rally in 1967. Not by choice, but by teacher's orders. What was I getting myself into with this pep rally thing? What is a pep? And that term, 'rally,' that was a new one to this country rube stuck in a city school system. Now all of my friends, the non-rubes, knew what a pep rally was and what went on at these things, but I didn't. I was scared deep down inside. I had dark thoughts of our main man, Joe L. Sargent, our principal of Hamilton High School, calling students up on the stage (that I had glimpsed one day at recess) to tell them what they were doing wrong. All in front of the entire student body. I was never one to enjoy being laughed at.
Curtain going up on my first pep rally . . .
I took my seat on the shaky wooden bleachers with my non-rube, city school friends and tried to look like I knew what I was doing. And also tried hard to give the appearance that I belonged on those bleachers. It worked. For a while. Someone must have fed my non-rube, city school friends some background information on me for, I think it was Chip Wood, a hefty junior high student, who loudly remarked, "Ken, this your first pep rally?" And then laughed in his famous, patented hyena style of laughing. Students sitting next to Wood asked what he was laughing at and Wood whispered to them that this was my first pep rally, so now the entire section of bleachers were laughing. At me. I felt my face burn with humiliation. Even today in 2011, that sensation is always near me. Tormenting me that I was the 'rube who went to town to see a pep rally.' Not a respectful title. But it beats being called a jackass. Junior high students are so cruel.
Suddenly, without any formal warning . . .
the Hamilton High School band started playing some upbeat song that I had never heard of, but I was sure that this song was just written for pep rallies because our bevy of lovely cheerleaders and majorettes came before both sides of the gym yelling, "Go, Aggies, Go" and told us to join them. Most of my non-rube, city school kids with perfect teeth and new Dickies jeans and Keds sneakers grinned and yelled with these girls who obviously enjoyed what they were doing. I just moved my lips. Lip synced the words to their cheers. My voice was beginning to change and believe you me, no one really enjoys hearing a screeching voice from a junior high boy yelling some cheer that he doesn't know. I did though, fool the cheerleaders and majorettes into believing that I wasn't there by mistake. One of two of these girls, I swear, smiled at me out of pity. Cheerleaders 'in my day,' (there goes that nerve-biting term again) had compassion, not self-promotion.
After the cheerleaders, majorettes and band had finished their part of my first pep rally, Mr. Sargent, dressed in a generic white shirt, thin black tie with shiny, creased black pants, got up from his metal chair and said, "Now, students. You need to get behind this Aggie team tonight. (it was Friday when our pep rallies were held) Make these boys proud to be an Aggie," he said peering over his thick, black-rimmed glasses. "And students, " he continued, "I have one more thing to say before I introduce you to the Aggie coaches, (this was it. I knew that my name was up. I would be called to the stage. Be singled-out for being new to Hamilton High School and laughed at), I just want to say that, uh, you need to work hard everyday. Listen to your teachers, and work to be someone your parents can be proud of," he added before he introduced L.C. Fowler, a hulking man of six-foot, two inches tall, the head coach of the Aggies. Funny, I had never heard of an Aggie until that pep rally. I thought it was a comet from outer space. Dumb me. Rube Kenneth. An Aggie was a bulldog, the mascot for Hamilton High's olden name, Hamilton Agricultural School back in the late 50's. Live and learn I guess.
After the coaches said their rehearsed speeches, the students were dismissed to go back to their rooms for more classes. I came away from my first pep rally a new kid. I was pumped. Even at getting made fun of by the city school kids. I was still excited at being at a pep rally. I couldn't wait to tell my mom and dad when I got home that evening. Boy, would they be surprised.
My attending my first pep rally began my journey down my ordered and designed pathway of life, (I hate to be philosophical, but it fits), and made me realize, even in seventh grade, that there was more to life than cornstalks, slopping hogs, picking cotton, and drinking ice water from a Mason jar at the end of the cotton rows. I was feeling different inside. Growing. Thinking. Anticipating even more exciting things that lay ahead. More exciting things than a pep rally. I had gotten my first taste of life. I was hungry as a pent-up mongrel being let out after a week without food. I was ready to live. Thanks to being able to attend my first pep rally.
What pep rallies were like 'in my day' . . .
- Cheerleaders' uniforms were respectful and didn't expose their skin to everyone.
- The students, even though rowdy sometimes, respected the teachers, principal, and the high school coaches.
- A student if caught chewing gum in the gym, was taken to the principal's office for punishment.
- Students used 'yes, ma'am' and 'yes, sir,' each time we were spoken to. And this wasn't an option. We did it gladly.
- Football players' hair wasn't in their eyes or flowing down their back like the mane on a horse.
- Cheerleaders didn't stand outside the gym after the pep rally making out in public with their boyfriends who were on the football team.
- Students did not talk while an authority figure was speaking on the stage. Breaking this rule would also send the rebellious student to the principal's office.
- The school authorities didn't have to have our local police force on hand with drug-sniffing dogs going up and down the bleachers--sniffing out illegal drugs. The police 'in my day' (there is that term again), were concerned with burglaries, what few that were committed, speeders, and an occasional drunk driver.
- Students 'in my day,' were not screened for handguns before they entered the gym or main entrance to the high school. Just throwing a 'spitball' at another student in class or in a pep rally was grounds for dismissal from school for two to three days.
- Teachers or hired security guards didn't have to walk the halls in and after class or while we were at pep rallies for fear of gangs of drug pushers, violent offenders entering our school building to do what they wanted. A visitor had to first go to the principal's office, provide proper identification, and then be approved by Mr. Sargent, our principal, before he or she could go to the room to see their child who was in class. And even then, the teacher had to see the parent's identification and make sure that the child was in safe hands.
- There were no bomb threats 'in my day,' maybe the occasional tossing of a Black Cat firecracker (when we let out for Christmas vacation) by a fun-loving student to hear the explosion making other students gasp with fright.
In conclusion . . .
To some of you this is a funny story. Comedy at its best. Well, you are entitled to your opinion, and I will go as far as to agree that some, maybe all, of this story's contents are funny. Maybe a bit ridiculous. But it is the truth told by someone who lived it. Me.
Did these stringent rules and other areas of order make us better students? Yes. I can attest to that. I wanted to do good. I wanted to make something more of myself. More than my dad had made of his life, not that he had a terrible life. This was what he wanted of me. To obey the laws, respect my teachers and friends, and work to always go good. Daddy, to some, was an outdated record. A book that was once read, but now just draws dust on a forgotten shelf. But he was my dad. And thanks to him, I had to learn how to endure the uncalled for, cruel humiliation of being a 'rural rube,' and I am glad that I stuck it out.
Did we all get famous, wealthy and powerful for striving to follow the rules? No. That would be a lie. Some of my classmates from this time in my life, 'in my day,' are now successful lawyers, CPA's, nursing instructors, college professors, teachers--in most levels of education, engineers, draftsmen, military leaders, and leaders of our city and county.
Did I personally love to obey the teachers, rules, and things that 'in my day' seemed to hard to bear? No. Does any junior high student?
And as an older member of society, I can safely say that we 'seasoned veterans' of life who have endured sickness, dangers, rejections and humiliation along the way can either sit back and talk about how bad the young people in high schools and colleges are today.
Or, we can see them for whom they are--just like we were. Sometimes rowdy, but always finding their niche some way or another and eventually becoming fine citizens. Citizens whom I am proud to call my friends.
Yes, pep rallies have come a long way from those back 'in my day,'
so have the people attending them.