Friday, June 16, 2006

Go Greyhounds! (A special guest post)

The following post was written by Ken Winward. Ken was in my kindergarten class and in many of my classes throughout our 12 years in the Pullman School District. Because we always seemed to be placed in the same classes throughout the years, I considered him a reliable friend, and his presence was reassuring. He was the kind of person you knew would stick up for you if you needed it, or would take the time to listen if you needed someone to lend an ear. Ken was an excellent athlete in his high school years, and I remember him stopping me in the halls of PHS one day, to tell me that I should "lift" because I had the calves for it! Ken found my blog a few weeks back, and I asked him if he had a memory of Pullman to contribute, and, true to his passion for athletics, he submitted the following story... - Jana

Living in a college town such as Pullman gives a unique experience to a high school athlete. Even though Pullman is a small town (25,000 during the school year, 10,000 when the college is out for the summer) you can never be a “big fish in a small pond.” For instance, as a footballer, no matter how good a game you played on Friday, all of your heroic acts would be well over-shadowed by the Pac 10 game that was going to be played 18 short hours later on, on the very same field (i.e. Martin Stadium).

The air was crisp. Three hours before kick-off we met at the PHS football locker room right next to the practice field. We changed as a team. The sounds of taping the injured filled the cement and tile quarters. The visiting team changed in the adjacent, mirror image facility, imitating our pre-game rituals. Some of us dressed early and had time to spend in the pad room. This room is where tackling dummies and shields are kept. The mason who set the cinder-block walls lining the pad room did a fine job on the outside of the building. People who sat on the bleachers could look down and see beautifully smoothed mortar; but the inside was rough and bulging where the mortar set in grotesque stalactites hanging from the wall at each groove. We didn’t mind though. To get-up for the game, we would lay on the tackling pads, and we would share tapes and walkmans, listening to AC/DC, Beastie Boys, Scorpions, Ozzy and any other teen-testosterone generating music that was available in the late 80’s.

Big Coach B. would come and shake the clutch of us who were in the pad room. When he shook us, we knew to stow our electronics because it was time to get last-minute instructions before we left for Martin Stadium. PHS did not have a lit stadium in the 80’s. We played on the WSU Cougar astro-turf. This was big time for a small town varsity football player. As we left the high school locker room, the light smell of sweat and mildew would be replaced with the scent of burnt or burning wheat stubble that filled the air in the fall around the Palouse. The cool night air and scorched farmland filling your nose was electric. It was game time.

The trip to WSU’s stadium was about 2 miles door to tunnel. The bus trip was like riding to Moscow -- it took forever!

Mr. H would drive the bus. He was a permanent fixture on local or road trips. He volunteered almost always. I believe he was living what I live now as I embark on my fourth decade of life. He had that desire to feel that electricity that one only feels when being a part of this high school ritual. I long for it and desire it now. It harrows my essence after tasting it once and knowing I will never have it back again. Mr. H wanted to feel it too.

When we off-loaded from the bus, the smell of diesel exhaust faded, as we approached the tunnel. The eradicated stubble once again filled our noses. The sound of the gravelly-idle of the bus was also replaced with “that sound”. That sound of a small high school band tuning in a Division-1 stadium. It was like throwing a hand full of pebbles in a canyon and hearing the echo of the stones hit the floor of the hole, but those few pebbles would never quite fill the crater. It was beautiful.

The moon was now rising. The smoke covering the area filtered the light from the moon making it appear to be blood-red. One would think that such a sight would possibly shock a visiting team and their fans that came to Pullman for the game, but all the towns that made up the Frontier League saw the same effect on the moon where they came from. They were all farm towns. The only shock to the visitors came when they walked into the stadium and found the place could hold the total population of Pullman and then some.

As we would head down the dark tunnel (they didn’t turn on all the lights in the stadium for the high school games), it was like crossing the Styx. You were transformed going from the dark to the well-lit field; you were now different. It was a type of baptism. Nothing you had on your mind mattered that did not pertain to the performance you were about to attempt.

Once emerged from the tunnel, the sight was amazing. So many empty seats. A stadium built for 30,000+ seating only a couple hundred fans all on the southeast side, visitors and hometown folks seated together. I never quite knew why they all always sat on that side. Maybe it was to avoid the walk between narrow bleachers, or maybe it was the limited shelter the slightly overhanging press box provided in the off chance of rain. Whatever it was, it was lonely. Our coaches only let us set-up on the far side of the stadium, away from the crowd. With the fans that far away in such a large bowl, to say the least, it was a delayed positive feedback when a play went well.

And now came the sound of the band as their tuning ended and they began the national anthem. Hearing them play, their sound passing and coming back again after bouncing off the empty bleachers behind our sideline, was simply surreal. With the right tempo, the echoing would create a round effect. That was Pullman High School football.

I am 37 now. My wife is a high school teacher, and I have been a spectator to many a high school football game since the 80’s. The school she teaches at now has the same fight song melody as Pullman’s. When they fire-up the band here, for a second, I am snapped back to high school looking through a full cage face mask at the field I am about to take with my teammates. Today Pullman High School plays football at the school on Hobbs Field (it was our practice field and the JV and Frosh teams’ game field until they decided to light it in the late 90’s or so).

The games I played were memorable, just as they would be for any other high school team, but the uniqueness of playing in Martin Stadium is going to be one of the sweetest recollections I will have from my time in Pullman. - Ken Winward

Thanks for bringing us back to those fall Friday nights at Martin Stadium, Ken! Go Greyhounds!