By David Anderson
Fifty years ago I was laughed off the stage.
But this time was different.
Woodbrook Middle School celebrated its 50th Anniversary this last week and I was invited to play my accordion like I’d done a half-century ago.
On that day in 1963, when the curtain parted for my rendition of “The Woodbrook Fight Song,” aka “Our Director’s March,” I froze. As a twelve-year-old I had never seen so many people before in one place (at one time Woodbrook held 1,100 students) whose eyes were all – all – directed at me. That they were my peers had zero impact.
I promptly forgot what I was doing. I couldn’t remember how the song went. I was frightened beyond belief. The brief strains that squeaked from the bellows had I’m sure no recognizable qualities to the tens of thousands (might as well have been) in the audience who had begun to twitter (a term that then met laughter) while I strained to remember how “Fight you Woodbrook Wildcats” started.
Surely for those gathered that day the laughing that gave way to clapping and cheering, as I remember it, was meant no doubt as both an enthusiastic – if not also apologetic – encouragement to the scrawny kid trying desperately to hide behind his squeezebox as he made his way behind the curtain and off the stage, his solo never finished.
But for me, then, it was a disaster of epic proportions; a most regrettable decision; an infamous, anti-climactic, I’ll-never-do-that-again, whatever-could-I-have-been-
It happened. There was no eraser big enough, no hole deep enough, to undo the damage to my new-kid-in-school psyche let alone my budding – now gone bust – Myron Floren career.
And no curtain call.
Until last week.
This time we twittered in chaotic unison.
Susie Sarachman, Woodbrook Middle School Counselor, who orchestrated the morning’s pep rally, was so excited (Susie uses a minimum of three exclamation points per sentence in her emails) that she stood to her feet during choir room rehearsal and, addressing the sixth graders, conveyed in true Susie-exclamatory fashion the historical significance of what they were about to accomplish with the resurrection of a fight song they heretofore did not know they had.
Wildcat pride was on abundant display.
Ms. Mendenhall had prepared a slide show from old yearbooks; longtime staff members were introduced by Ashton Meyers, student MC (introductions that elicited the response “They’ve been here forever!!!!!” from his fellow-MC Stephanie Moore): Mr. Howard and Mrs. Crumley, 25 and 27 years respectively; Mrs. Handy, 18; Mr. Bryant and Mrs. Palmer, 15; Mrs. Holand, Ms. Mendenhall and Mrs. Shines, 16; and Mrs. Lynn Johnson and Ms. Dilley 21 years.
A hilarious rendition of “Jeopardy!” using multiple choice questions covering the highlight trivia of Woodbrook Middle School history was won resoundingly by Mr. Vincent, math teacher, over his opponent and Principal Nancy LaChapelle.
Speaking of the latter, and trivia, guess who once “long ago in a land far away was a high school teacher who volunteered to chaperone a handful of JROTC students on a fieldtrip to Camp Pendleton, CA and who agreed to do so given her desire to visit her older brother who lived down there only to find out she was to become a recruit and not after all a chaperone such that by week’s end she had rappelled off a nine-story tower, shot an M-16, and survived the gas chamber”?
On this day, accompanied by the 6th grade Woodbrook Middle School choir led by Melissa Roach, who doubles as band instructor which is her official duty, I began again with the very same accordion used that fateful day, the one where keys stick at most inopportune times.
And this day, with the long-forgotten but resurrected lyrics (“We have a fight song? We didn’t know we had a fight song!!!”) on the overhead and sung by the entirety of some 512 students, plus teachers, administrators and guests:
With the resounding flourish of “Go Wildcats!” filling the rafters, ricocheting off bleachers, basketball backboards and walls, we finished.
There would have been an echo too except that it was drowned out by the kind of wild Wildcat cheering and applause that strikes fear into basketball opponents when the school fight song is played by the band which renewed spirit assemblies and games are rumored now to do.
The classes were dismissed by rows but not before an updated rap (we didn’t have rap 50 years ago) version of what it means to be a Woodbrook Wildcat, created by Melissa Juvick, school counselor, was performed by a team of students to each class in succession, the spirit award eventually won by the 8th graders with the entire staff spilling out onto the floor as cheerleaders.
There’s a poster picturing a highway enclosed in the glass case in the main hallway of Woodbrook Middle School – the hallway down which over 50 years ago I rode my bicycle when the one-day-to-be-a school was under construction. Then the school was just a slab of concrete – no desks, no chairs, no lockers, no classrooms.
That poster reads: “It all starts here. You choose the direction.”
Indeed it does. And indeed we do.
Thank you Woodbrook Middle School staff – all of you, for all you do in getting us started aright.
Thanks for the memories.
Post-script: And thank you to Hilda Harmon who attended Woodbrook Middle School five years after me and was able to recall not only the words but actually sang them over the phone to my wife who had scoured our house top to bottom in a fruitless search for a long-ago lost sheet of music.
“Fight you Woodbrook Wildcats, Run up the score,
We want a victory, We don’t ask for more.
Fight! Fight! Fight!
Gold and purple banner, Woodbrook’s the name,
Honor and Glory will be our fame.”