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Some things are the same coast to coast

Oct 1, 2017 By Randy Tucker, Staff Writer

I had a hit song by Waylon Jennings rolling through my mind last week as we made another trip to the suburbs of Pittsburgh to visit daughter Staci's family.

"Well I come from, down around Tennessee, but the people in California are nice to me, America..."

That's a more realistic view of America than network executives portray. A football game between the Norwin Knights and the Canon-McMillan Macs of Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, could have been played anywhere in USA. It was yet another Friday-night rite of passage for young men across the country.

The teams play in Class 6-A, the largest division in Pennsylvania.The players were immense by Wyoming standards, but the quality of play, play selection and defensive schemes were just average.Sheridan and Casper Natrona would both roll over these two teams with school enrollments of about 1,800, but you'd have to go to the University of Wyoming to witness marching bands of equivalent talent.

As one parent told me as I marveled at both the Knights and Macs marching bands, "Band is a sport around here." No doubt, and a very good one.

Both bands sported approximately 150 members and an additional 50 or so flag girls.

The Macs produced a huge sound with solid trombone and trumpet sections, but the Knights didn't have a single trombone in it. No trombones? In a marching band? Sacrilege many would say. Instead there was a section of E-flat horns, a huge cadre of baritones horns, and eight tubas.Yes, they both produced that strong brass-over-drum-beat sound unique to talented marching bands.

Norwin had a huge cheer squad, with 75 cheerleaders lining the eight-lane track surrounding the immaculate artificial surface. They stretched from 20-yard line to 20-yard line directly behind the home bench.

But that's where the differences ended. Listening to the fans around me I soon appreciated my opportunity to be on the sidelines for most games rather than listening to the people in the stands.

Norwin started a 6-2, 180-pound sophomore quarterback. The kid was good and will eventually play at some level in college after graduation, but he didn't start the season at quarterback.

From the talk around me, I learned that the coach selected the sophomore as a starter, but there was a senior on the roster with connections on the school board. The board intervened and told the coach he had to start the senior. The coach complied, but Norwin lost their first game 3-0 after a couple of key fumbles and the sophomore took over after the second game. The Knights are now 3-2 on the season.

As long as the team wins with the sophomore, the coach's job is safe. Lse one or more, and his contract probably will be under review.

Sound familiar to anyone in the viewing audience? Small-town politics, vicarious parents and outside influences continue to abound in prep sports across America.

Classroom discipline was a popular topic as well. Everyone wants stricter discipline as long as it's not directed toward their children, but there were a couple of gems mentioned.

In Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, it takes five rounds of interviews to get a teaching position. Five interviews in front of administrators, board members and community members is a golden opportunity for corruption and outside influence. Inclusion often is a well-disguised ruse to limit input. It's done here regularly.

A story that could have happened anywhere in Wyoming stood out. A reading teacher with eight years of experience in Virginia, plus a master's degree, made it through the fourth round of interviews, but she didn't get the job. A board member's niece who was almost finished with her degree was granted a transitional license and was hired for the position, but the story doesn't end there.

The Virginia transfer moved with her husband and took a position as a substitute in the area. One day on the job a sophomore boy took pictures of his genitals in the back of her classroom then posted them on Snapchat. The ridicule he took tragically ended with his suicide through a self-inflicted gunshot. The district blamed the substitute teacher and banned her from ever working in a classroom again.She now drives a bus.

It's not much of a stretch to see this happening locally. Unruly children allowed to destroy everything in sight, or aggressive, out-of-control children, surrounded by dancing adults trying to keep them from other children rather than dealing with the problem is a step on the same road.

A little more America came as Sue and I traveled for a mini-vacation to Erie, Pennsylvania. We stayed at a high rise hotel on the south shore America's fourth-largest lake. As we walked along the boardwalk one night I spotted a tall black man about my age fishing along a channel separating a pair of hotels.

The brotherhood of fishermen knows no bounds. I asked him what was in these waters and a discussion of walleye, perch, bluegill, steelhead and crappie ensued. I showed him a few of the fishing pictures on my phone and discovered that we both use lead-headed spinning jigs with black and silver rubber minnows. Who would have thought?

Back to Waylon: "And my brothers are all black and white, yellow too and the red man right, to expect a little from you. Promise and then follow through, America."

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Editor's note: Staff writer Randy Tucker is a retired public school educator.

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