It happened on a Friday night in Autumn.
Epiphany, religious experience, phenomenon; whatever one wishes to call an event in which we feel the unmistakable presence of something greater than ourselves and by which we are forever changed.
It was the Fall of 1991. I was a Sophomore at Meridian High School. There, in the student section of Ray Stadium, amidst all of the cheers and the lights and the goings-on of a High School football game, something powerful overtook me. It was as if someone reached down from the heavens, tapped me on the shoulder and instructed me to take pause and look around.
I did as I was told.
In that very moment, seeing the hundreds of students who surrounded me, I realized that this was what people meant when they used the word community. I realized that I was a part of it. Fifteen-year-old-me probably said something like “Whoa..”.
Even more profound was the realization of the connection between that moment and a time in my state and my country before I was born; a time when people were willing to kill and be killed over who I should and shouldn’t be allowed to sit with on a Friday night in Ray Stadium. “Whoa”, indeed.
That moment has stayed with me, to say the least. Much of who I am today — the battles that I choose to fight, the ideals of democracy that I hold dear, my interpretation of what it means to be a person of faith — can be traced back directly to that Autumn night inside “The Ray”.
This week I attended the Mayor’s Summit on Crime. The Queen City, like every American city, has some real-world problems. These problems were discussed. Information was shared. Emotions ran high. There was applause and there was anger and there was laughter and there were tears. And despite the highs and lows of the evening, there was one constant — each of us love our City and we will go to great lengths to protect it.
Our City has a High School — Meridian High School. Our High School has a football team — the Meridian High School Wildcats. This Friday, another team, from a place called Petal, will be traveling up Interstate 59 in a caravan of red and white. They are coming into our City in an attempt to deny our football team from a second consecutive appearance in the 6A State Football Championship.
At 7:00 Friday, let’s put our real-world problems aside for just a few hours. Let’s hold a Summit on Wildcat Football. Let’s take the whole range of emotions that I saw and felt at the Frank Cochran Center Tuesday night and pack it into our vocal chords every time the Quarterback from Petal takes a snap.
This year’s undefeated Wildcats are the epitome of teamwork. There is no single superstar, only an entire team of young men who, over the past thirteen weeks, have given their all during every second of every quarter.
For what? For their team. For their school. For their City.
Our problems will still be here when the game is over. Maybe these young warriors can teach us something about coming together to overcome adversity.
Maybe, just maybe, it could be a religious experience.