By Tim Henney
On Friday night, Nov. 13, the civilized world shuddered. One hundred and thirty people were slaughtered and 350 or more hospitalized in Paris by ISIS murderers.
The next day my son, Justin, who lives across the street from War Memorial Field, invited me to go with him to the Bulldog football game. Depressed over recent events here and in France, I declined. Said I’d watch a college game on TV and worry about the human race. Then I said I’d go. We sat a few rows up from the field, at the 40. The game was thrilling. A fitting celebration for the aged grandstand. Bulldogs 31. Rigby Trojans, 22. On to state!
At game’s end Sandpoint’s battered, bruised, muddy, victorious and exultant young athletes gathered in front of us and sang. As we cheered their triumph with fellow fans who jammed the old bleachers, I was reminded of a seminal line from American literature. In “The Cider House Rules,” author John Irving’s central character, an orphanage founder/director, lovingly compliments his boys as he turns off the lights each night.
“Goodnight, you princes of Maine,” he says. “Goodnight, you kings of New England.”
As Justin and I loudly applauded the mud-soaked young gridiron warriors standing in front of us, I found myself thinking, “Good job, you princes of Sandpoint. Good job, you kings of the Northwest.”
The game was one for the books. A nail biter, like many my 1957 bride and I have weathered while rearing two athletic sons. We went through the drama and emotion of high school football many years ago. In other places. So, although a local booster, I am probably not as zealous as most of those rocking and pounding the old grandstand that Saturday. I’ve lived here a decade. The 80-something Bulldog advocate sitting alone next to me was born and grew up here. He has watched “just about every game since, oh, 1942 or maybe 1943,” he told us. To that fellow, Bulldog football is a sacred ritual. One of life’s priorities. We admired him.
Justin’s older brother, of Park City, Utah, played at Geneseo High School in Illinois. They won the state championship. Attending “Green Machine” games (their uniforms mimic the Green Bay Packers) was what everybody did on Friday nights. At least once in 1972 or ‘73, realizing it conflicted with a Geneseo high game, I cancelled a Deere and Company trip to Europe at the last minute. It inconvenienced colleagues who had arranged a soiree there with the company’s overseas leadership. Some probably were at job levels comparable to, maybe higher, than my own. Too bad. Putting personal needs over corporate interests tends to interrupt one’s climb up the corporate ladder. It did mine, and it was worth it. I still did okay.
At Ridgewood High in New Jersey, some years later, Justin was drilled in the back returning a kickoff. His mom and I watched it. He was seriously injured. Doctors said if it happened again he might be paralyzed. He was wrestling team captain and varsity pole vaulter. He quit all sports. Doctors’ orders. At Indiana University he couldn’t participate as he would have had he not been hurt. Instead he watched Bobby Knight’s Hoosiers play basketball. Today, in Sandpoint, he is a healthy husband, father, bicycle rider, counselor and soccer coach. And Bulldog booster.
As uplifting and exciting as Saturday’s triumph was, the untrammeled exuberance of the sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers and friends in the rickety grandstand made an even deeper impression on this observer. At the south end of the bleachers the school band blared encouragement. At the north end the most energetic yell leader I have ever seen (or heard) kept the heat on. And up. He ought to be marketing VP of General Electric. Turn him loose at an annual shareowner meeting and the stock, mired for years, would shoot through the roof.
Still reeling from the tragic recent suicide of a young student many at the game (and in it) undoubtedly knew and loved, Bulldog fans forgot their fear, their sadness, their disbelief. For three hours they exorcised from their minds life’s home-grown and faraway tragedies. They momentarily embraced Bulldog football rather than the tragedy in France or the chilling loss of a young friend. With whistles and whoops, with ear-splitting energy and warm collegiality they bellowed their joy. With shouts, screams and song. With laughing and slapping of backs. With banging and thumping of feet. And, responding, their beloved Bulldogs ground out a win in the mud.
The football team and those cheering them on made that Saturday an afternoon not soon forgotten. More importantly for this writer, the team and its fans helped restore gnawing octogenarian doubts about the human spirit. And goodwill. About hope, faith, love and charity. About all the good stuff. Thanks, you Princes of Sandpoint. You Kings of the Northwest.
Editor’s note: In a nailbiting game at the Kibbie Dome in Moscow last Saturday, our Princes of Sandpoint lost to Bishop Kelly High School 34-21. We congratulate them on a great season and wish them luck next year.