It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, which means it’s finally the end of the term. It’s time for me to pack my bags and head back north from Eugene for a month of mom’s cooking, cable TV, and clean laundry. No, I swear I’m not living in a third world country; I’m a student at University of Oregon, still navigating the complexities of feeding myself and keeping house. Besides stuffing my face when I get home, however, one thing I’ll be prepared to do this Saturday is hop on the I-5 to Jeld-Wen Field for the class 6A football state championship.
I guess I should also throw out there that I’m a Lake Oswego High School alum. I know for some that comes with a negative connotation. At least here in Eugene it’s certainly not a fact I boast unless I want to hear groans and lose a little respect from my peers. It’s not a point of pity – I think at times Lake Oswego certainly lives up to its name (both the good and the bad). And yet even as some of us Lake Oswegans find it shameful to proclaim our roots, I have to admit I’m proud of my town.
I know, nice timing, right? The team is headed to their second state championship football game, looking to defend their title. But it’s not the game or the team I look forward to most. It’s the community, the fans, the entire town that gets involved on the Lakers path to another championship. I can guarantee you that on Saturday the stands will be full for both sides. I’ll see my old teachers, my friends’ parents, my old teammates, classmates, and coaches. I’ll wear navy and white, I’ll remember all the cheers, and even though I’m no longer a student, I’ll still get the same rush when they score a touchdown.
It’s tradition that makes it special. It’s the idea that nothing has really changed. There’s security in going away to college for two years and coming back home to the same colors, the same chants, and the same unity. I know it’s nothing unique to Lake Oswego. I know it’s probably the same for Sheldon who will make the trip with enthusiasm and boast and cheer just as loudly. It’s the same for many programs across the state and the country.
For many it’s a family affair. Generations of players and students filter through the ranks of teams and classes. Many of the players on this year’s squad have older brothers, fathers, and uncles who wore the same uniform. And the tradition goes beyond the gridiron. This year my younger sister is a senior cheerleader and you can bet my pride and excitement are just as exuberant as when I played softball for the navy and white only two years ago. But even when she’s gone and graduated, even when there are no more Saldivars inside of Lake Oswego High School, I’ll still be just as proud of my former school. Family ties us but tradition keeps me coming back.
Perhaps it’s nostalgic or lame but there are few events and associations in today’s world that provide equal loyalty and enthusiasm across generations. It’s something I couldn’t understand when I was a student myself but something much clearer now as I make the trips back to support my sister and my school. Because even after she’s gone, I’ll come back. And maybe someday my kids will go there. Regardless, something about high school football, something about wearing your old colors, and singing your alma mater reminds us of a time not so far away. Just like the steady comforts of going home to mom and dad, watching a game from the stands and joining the ranks of the old Lakers and new, is a nice reminder that even after growth and distance, it’s always safe to come back. And on Saturday whether the team wins or loses, the alma mater will be chanted by grandparents, parents, students, players, coaches, and teachers, and for a grand moment I’ll know I’m home.