Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A riot at a basketball game

I went to high school in Northern Virginia, Fairfax country. West Springfield High to be specific. I started in 1973. My sister had started in 1971. This was the age of racial integration in northern Virginia. Our school had some percentage of minorities, not many. But about half the school kids, had parents that were military, government or state department, so we didn’t think about integration too much. Most of us had been in the minority at some other school. One of the schools that we had to play sports against was TC Williams High School. We were the Spartans, and TC Williams is the Titans. Does that ring a bell? Have you seen the movie Remember the Titans ? That took place in 1971, the year my sister started at school. In the movie, they reference playing football against Herndon, Hayfield, and other schools that we also played. TC Williams is probably 50 percent black and Springfield was probably 10 percent, at most. Our football team was average when we went there. TC Williams had been undefeated, second in the nation in 1971. They kicked our team from one end of the football field to the other. The game was over by the kick off. Half-time! Time for me and our marching band to shine. We were average also. Mr. Wynn was our director. He loved orchestral music and just put in the minimum for marching band season. He used to let us design the shapes we’d form marching. We march out while playing the first song. We drummers then “click” as the band forms the next geometric shape. Real complicated stuff. We considered it a great success when our square, wasn’t a triangle or a pentagon. We had a blast. We did do something that today’s marching bands don’t seem to do. We played music geared to brass and drums and we learned new songs and formed new shapes every other week (home games). So we go through some shapes and some songs, mostly John Phillips Sousa stuff. Mr. Wynn might let his hair down and let us play a horn version of Yesterday, by the Beatles . If you wake up in a nightmare, dreaming of that disaster, well, it’s not my fault. The best song we could do, we always did in the stands. The Theme from the movie SHAFT . Yeah, we were bad. We fire up the Spartan fight song and march, crookedly, off the field. Yielding the field of battle to the Titan marching band. They proceed to kick OUR hinnies from one end of the field to the other. Our drum major’s big move was to stiff-leg run out in front of the band. Theirs had the dance moves of a Broadway show. We stood and played and if we were lucky, we walked in almost straight lines AND played at the same time. They DANCED and played. Every song. Unreal. After we picked up our jaws from the ground, we decided to remove our band jackets and eat nacho’s. Mr. Wynn didn’t like nacho cheese smeared on the brass, so when we’d show up with that, he’d not bother to make us play SHAFT again. We’d just be a large group of kids eating nachos, incognito.

Fast forward to basketball season. Read the prior post on our team heading to state? Our turn to kick TC Williams around our gymnasium. Have you seen the move Hoosiers with Gene Hackman ? He coaches an underdog basketball team. There is one scene where he is talking with his team and mentions not to get taken in by some little sweat-box gym of their opponent. That was how the gym was at Springfield. Shoot, we couldn’t seat all the kids, let alone parents. Or another team! It seems that everyone wanted to come see our team play, as we were very good. The Titans were also very good, so it was destined to be a match up. The winner goes on to divisional eliminations and possible state. Except no one bothered to control the ticket sales. They managed to over sell the seats in our gym. On top of that, TC Williams is in Alexandria, so many of their supporters had also purchased a bus ticket to get to the game. They are arriving to find that their bus ticket was spent for nothing, as there are no seats left either.
It was my turn to be in the small band that played the Star Spangled Banner at the start of the game and then play the school fight song once or twice. We band members were still on the floor, watching as the entire gym is packed in. We used to get dismissed so Mr. Wynn could go listen to Bach and we could party with friends in the bleachers. Not this time, as there are no seats. It is somewhere in the first quarter, the gym is packed, the temperature from all the bodies, has it about 85 degrees in there. It is very loud. All of a sudden, the closed doors burst open and about 50 more people storm into the gym, spilling onto the court. There is a lot of shouting and animation. More people enter. The referee stops play. The few police in the place rush over to the people on the floor, trying to restore some order. Mr. Wynn instructs us to stay right there by the door, but to get our instruments ready to exit. The first fist is thrown and all heck breaks out. The coach’s try and get their players heading to the bathrooms, the stands start to sway (remember the pull-away-from-the-wall bleachers?). More fists are thrown. Mr. Wynn heads us out that side door with the instructions to stick together and make for the band hall. We hit the door and start excusing us through the people who are packed into the halls. Somehow, we stick reasonable together, as there are probably only ten of us. We make the band room, Mr. Wynn unlocks it and we hustle in so he can lock us in. After a time, it starts getting quiet. I don’t remember how we got let go. Eventually, they called the game off and got people dispersed. They then reschedule the rest of our scheduled games for the big new high school gyms. Where everyone’s ticket was still good for a seat.

No comments: