Armchair quarterbacks daydream how they would’ve completed the pass. In the shower, closeted singers demand respect like Aretha. Wannabe hoofers dance like nobody’s watching, while nobody’s watching. Little girls all over the world perfect their cartwheels during summer Olympics.
I’ll whisper my secret, if you promise not to tell. In the quiet of driver’s seat, when no one is listening, I give speeches.
“I’d like to thank the Academy.”
I don’t want to be an actor; I just want to hold the microphone at the celebration.
“I accept this award with gratitude for the person who was too shy to be here. Now, I’ve got a funny story to tell you.”
Or sometimes, from behind the steering wheel, I’m called to testify. Regardless of religion or politics, my message is the same: “My fellow American churchgoers, I’ve seen how some of y’all treat folks. Now, I’ve got a few things to say about that.”
But today, I’m pretending to speak at the last Dothan City Schools baccalaureate for the Dothan High Tigers and the Northview Cougars.
In my imagined speech, I’d open with a quip. “A Tiger and a Cougar walk into a bar.” I’d pause for murmured laughter. Then, I’d ease the crowd by letting them know I’m one of them. I’d say, “Let me tell you how I’m a Tiger AND a Cougar, how my red-and-black blood turned maroon-and-gold. It is my story, but it might be yours, too.”
Then, I’d tell this:
Aunt Helen was 16 years old when Daddy was born in 1934. Her name was Charlie Helen. Her people called her both names. They pronounced it Chollie. “Chollie Helen.”
She graduated from Dothan High School around that same time, and she had two dates to prom. I assume that there weren’t as many girls as boys in high school in the ’30s, but in her version, she was invited twice and just couldn’t choose between them. I picture her in a pink chiffon dress with a lanky lad on each arm.
Thus began my deep love for the Tigers, a generation before I was born.
I have Daddy’s varsity letter from 1952. It’s a D with a football on it. According to him, he only played at practice. He wore the cleanest uniform as the team ran onto the field. The Greatest Band in Tiger Land proclaimed Glory, glory to ole Dothan! D-O-T-H-A-N!
Starla cheered for the Tigers until 1974, and Angie edited the Gargoyle through 1977. Both sisters sang in Concert Choir. I attended every performance for six years, ended each time with the alma mater. I knew all the words before I entered double digits. I counted the years until my turn to be a Tiger in my own right.
Well, you know the rest of the story.
The school split. Friend groups divided. Hearts broke.
A new alma mater was adopted and sung by my fellow Cougars and me at our 1983 ceremony.
At this point in the speech, I’d perform my one and only parlor trick. I can still sing both alma maters. The voice is pitchy, but the lyrics are spot-on.
“Alma Mater, Dothan High School, ever strong and ever true.
Our loudest songs of praises, ring out proudly then to you.”
“Alma Mater, Northview High School, shining light to guide our youth.
Lead us forward, striving onward, to our goals of peace and truth.”
As the next generation commenced, my children found their spots at Northview, which guided them to their next spots. My twin daughters graduated in 2012, and my son in 2017. He played lead snare for marching band and marked time for the fight song. Da nuh na nuh na nuh nuh nuh. I can feel it in my heartbeat.
I cheerfully served eight years in NHS band boosters. We made friends with DHS band boosters at National Peanut Festivals and traded Cougar Crunches for Tiger Tails. I wonder what the combined parent group will invent as the signature treat for the fair.
It’ll take a while to cheer for “the Dothan High Wolves at the old Northview High building.” It doesn’t roll off the tongue. It’s hard to clap to. But it’ll come.
At the end of my speech, I’d make my eyes glisten with welled tears. My words would catch in my throat. I’d take a deep breath and summon my aforementioned inner preacher and encourage the has-beens, the last of the Tigers and the Cougars, to hold tight to their memories and their traditions, to join the rest of us in reminiscing our glory days, and to remember words the wise Zac Efron sang in High School Musical, “We’re all in this together.”
Long live the Tigers.
Long live the Cougars.
At least, that’s what I think I’d say.
Celeste King Conner blabbers relentlessly about growing up in Dothan, Alabama. Blabber to her at email@example.com.