Lettering In BBQ

Most of the varsity teams in American high schools involve sports that have been around for a long, long time.  Baseball, football, basketball, wrestling, and swimming, among others, have all been around for decades.  Now some high schools in Texas are introducing a new varsity team to the mix:  barbecue.

30629807_346739375833962_402609782687286108_nThe high school BBQ teams in Texas sound like a combination of vocational education, home ec, and shop class, with a little rah-rah school spirit thrown in.  Students on the team build and weld their own metal barbecue cooker, design and create their own team t-shirts, and work with teachers to come up with recipes and techniques and develop their pitmaster capabilities in the competitive cooking categories.  At cook-off competitions, the teams are judged on best beef brisket, pork ribs, half chicken, best beans, dessert, best pit, most school spirit, and best t-shirt.

High school barbecue teams sound odd, at first, but I think they’re actually a pretty good idea, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see more schools in other states adopting the concept.  The BBQ teams have got to be a lot of fun, and they offer a chance for boys and girls to be on the same school squad, competing together for their alma maters.  The modern world is a lot more about inclusion, and a varsity BBQ team would have room for anyone who likes to cook — regardless of their physical condition, height, weight, coordination, or general athletic ability.  And every kid who letters in BBQ will end up being pretty deft with a grille and smoker and probably can make a pretty mean sauce, besides.  It would be a nice skill to have as you move into adulthood.

Varsity barbecue has been rapidly growing in popularity, especially in north Texas.  One annual tournament drew teams from more than 100 high schools.  I bet it drew a lot of hungry fans, too.

Ghosts of High School Past

Some curious news for those of us who graduated from Upper Arlington High School has been reported recently:  the existing school where we went to classes years ago is built on the grounds of a former family cemetery.  (As if going to high school weren’t scary enough already, just on its own!)

pioneer-green-flakeThe back story is really pretty interesting stuff.  In the years before and during the Civil War — long before Upper Arlington became the hoity-toity, McMansion-filled suburb it is now — the land was owned by a former slave named Pleasant Litchford.  He was an leading member of the Perry Township community, a master blacksmith, a founding member of a church, a large property owner, . . . and, notably, a participant in the Underground Railroad that moved escaped slaves from the slaveholding south, through the free states, and north to Canada and freedom.  Mr. Litchford established a school for African-American children on his property — and also a cemetery for his family and descendants.  Mr. Litchford died in 1867, just after the Civil War ended.

Years later, Upper Arlington was founded, and later still, in 1955, the school board was looking for a place to build the new high school.  They bought the Litchford property and discovered that it included the cemetery.  Rather than leave the cemetery be, they exhumed the buried bodies and moved them to Union Cemetery for reinterment, where most of them are listed as “unnamed adults.”  The school then was built on the property and, with the kind of collective amnesia that is all-too-common in American history, people in Upper Arlington promptly forgot about Pleasant Litchford and his family cemetery.  When I started to go to UAHS in the early ’70s, no one told me or my fellow students that we were walking over the ground of a former cemetery.

I don’t think I ever saw a ghost lurking in the halls of UAHS, and the only creepy feeling I got was around the flea-bitten remains of a gigantic standing stuffed bear that was kept in a glass cage near the entrance of the building.  Now the old building is going to be torn down and a new building erected, and the construction crews are going to be mindful, as they dig and build, to keep an eye out for remains that might have been missed in 1955.

And while they’re building a new school, here’s an idea for the school board to consider:  rather than renaming the new building Upper Arlington High School, which is pretty boring, how about celebrating a man whose life epitomized a strong, personal commitment to freedom, family, hard work, and education, and naming the new school Pleasant Litchford High School instead?

Your High School Music

The other day I thumbed through my iPod music playlist and stopped at the playlist “UAHS Rock.”  (UAHS stands for Upper Arlington High School, from which I graduated in June, 1975.)  It’s a list of about 200 songs I remember listening to during my three years attending high school as a Golden Bear.  (In those days, classes were so huge that the freshman year was spent in junior high.  I think my graduating class had about 890 people in it.)

upper_arlington_oh_sign-307x192I wrote about the playlist some years ago, but it had been years since I’d listened to it.  My musical tastes have broadened quite a bit since my high school days, and lately I’ve been enjoying classical music from the baroque era.  But I got the sad news that one of my high school classmates had passed on, and it made me think about those days and the music I associate with it.  Once I started playing the music on the playlist, I felt the stirrings of my 17-year-old self, sitting in my room at our split-level family home in “new Arlington” and listening to records on a cheap Panasonic turntable or on WCOL-FM, the “album rock” station in town.  Boy, there was some great music being recorded during those days!

All of the songs on the playlist now form a core part of the playlist on any modern “classic rock” station, and they all came out during the days when I was a kid trying to find my locker and then make it to my next class in the sprawling corridors of UAHS.  The songs are terrific, and because they came out at that weird, awkward, scary, fun time, they pluck some of those special musical heartstrings we all have.  I’m guessing that pretty much everyone has a special corner of their psyche reserved for that high school time in their life and especially the music that is so incredibly closely associated with it — whether you graduated from high school in the ’60s, ’80s, post-2000, or are in high school right now.  You listen, and you feel yourself beginning to do the same lame dance moves you first tried as a fumbling teenager.

I’m not arguing that the rock music of the early ’70s is the best rock music ever — who would argue with that irrefutable proposition? — but only observing that if it’s been a while since you’ve listened to your high school music, you’d be doing yourself a favor by doing so.  You’ll feel younger!

The Donald And The Towel-Snappers

Donald Trump has apologized for incredibly crude and offensive comments that were recorded when he made a cameo appearance on a soap opera in 2005.   The recording was released by the Washington Post yesterday.

If you haven’t listened to the recording, I encourage you not to do so, if you want to maintain some semblance of respect for the American political process.  Just know that Trump’s statements were lewd, coarse, demeaning, appalling, and just about every other adjective you can think of that describes the crass end of the behavioral spectrum.  In his apology, Trump described the recorded conversation as “locker room banter.”

martynelson“Locker room banter.”  I suppose that accurately describes it . . . if we’re talking about a high school locker room.  Any male who lived through those years remembers the high school locker room, when the boys showering and changing clothes were divided into two groups — the loud talking, preening, strutting, arrogant assholes who were trying desperately to establish themselves as alpha males, and the rest of us who just wanted to get the hell out of there.  The first group included the towel snappers, and the “prank” pullers, and the bullies who thought it was hilarious to torment the uncoordinated, the short, the skinny, and the tubby kids who hated gym class for that very reason.  And it was the same guys who bragged incessantly about their claimed, probably imaginary, sexual conquests in the most vulgar terms you can possibly imagine.  The rest of us were forced to listen to the bullshit, knowing and liking the girls who were being so crudely described and feeling sorry that our classmates apparently were going out with complete jackasses.

So now we’ve confirmed that Donald Trump was one of the towel snappers, and he’s really never moved on.  When the situation presents itself, he can sink to levels of boorishness and grossness with the best of them.  No surprise there, really.  Throughout his career in the public eye, Trump has repeatedly been willing to dip into the muck when he thinks the situation calls for it, whether it’s talking about his romantic exploits or concluding that it’s perfectly acceptable to make veiled references to his sexual potency during a presidential debate.  When you identify him as part of the alpha male locker room brigade, it becomes all too predictable.

God help us!  Election Day can’t get here soon enough.

Glenn Frey

Glenn Frey died today, of complications from a number of ailments.  He was a founding member of the Eagles who was involved in writing, and singing, some of their finest songs.  He also had a solo career that featured some great songs, like The Heat Is On and Smuggler’s Blues.

img_7517_zps7d4a93e4But, of course, Glenn Frey will always be associated with the Eagles.  Why not?  It was a group that pretty much defined the country rock genre that came to prominence in the early ’70s, and the music the band produced was so great that, when I was in high school, you couldn’t go to a friend’s house without hearing the Eagles.  (My best friend in high school liked to quote Eagles’ lyrics at moments of stress; when he was debating whether to ask a girl out on a date, “take another shot of courage” was one of his favorite lines.)  Peaceful Easy Feeling, Take It Easy, Tequila Sunrise, and Desperado were all classic songs that have stood the test of time.

My favorite Eagles album, though, was On The Border, which had a bit of a harder edge and featured great songs like Already Gone, James Dean, Ol’ 55, On The Border, and Good Day In Hell and then closed with Best of My Love.  In the summer of 1976, when I worked at a resort in Lake George, New York, On The Border was the album of choice, constantly playing in the staff residence.  It was well suited to some beer-soaked crooning at the end of a long work day.  After On The Border, the Eagles music seemed to become a bit more commercialized, and it didn’t quite have the same appeal for me.

It’s strange that Glenn Frey’s death would follow so closely on the heels of David Bowie’s passing.  In their own ways, they epitomized different points on the wide spectrum of rock music during the early ’70s, with Bowie being the greatest practitioner of glam rock and the Eagles staking out their claim to the country rock territory.  Through the diversity of their music, both showed what rock music could be.

 

UAHS Rock

There is a theory that every person, of every generation, ends up thinking the music they listened to in high school and college is the best music ever recorded.  And if, 40 years later, they hear the strains of a song that became a hit during the summer after their junior year it still brings a smile to their lips, injects little youthful exuberance into their soul, and makes them want to move their feet, just as it did during their acne-addled years.

This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, really.  For most of us, we’ve never listened to music as fully and intensely as we did during high school and college.  Records and bands were important in those days.  It was not uncommon to listen to records, or the radio, for hours, with or without friends, and then talk about new groups and music, or some great older pieces that you’d just discovered, when you encountered your friends at school.  (“Hey, have you listened to this new group called The Eagles?”)  I even subscribed to Rolling Stone, read its reviews of new albums, and sometimes made purchases on the basis of its recommendation alone if the review was a rave.

And, of course, when you listen to music so carefully you tend to associate it with specific memories from your callow youth — like the album that was playing when you and your buddies were playing pool in the basement (Deep Purple’s Machine Head, maybe?) or the song that your high school girlfriend said was her favorite one time when you were out on a date.  How many people who graduated from high school in my year of 1975 can still sing every song on Paul McCartney and Wings’ Band on the Run album because repeated listenings ingrained it forever onto their memory banks?

So, I’m guessing that everyone out there thinks that the music that they listened to during their high school and college years — whether those years occurred in the ’50s, ’60s, ’80s, ’90s, or in this new millennium — is unquestionably the greatest music ever.  Fortunately, in my case, involving the music that I listened to during the ’70s, that just happens to be accurate. I’ve made several playlists that capture those songs, and one of them, UAHS Rock, focuses on the harder stuff that I listened to back when I was walking the halls of Upper Arlington High School during the early ’70s, with an embarrassing haircut and ludicrous ’70s clothing.  The first 20 songs of the playlist still stand up pretty well:

I’m Eighteen  — Alice Cooper
Layla — Derek & The Dominos
Smoke On The Water — Deep Purple
Stairway To Heaven — Led Zeppelin
Walk This Way — Aerosmith
Sweet Home Alabama — Lynyrd Skynyrd
Hocus Pocus — Focus
Band On The Run — Paul McCartney & Wings
Superstition — Stevie Wonder
Come And Get Your Love — Redbone
All Right Now — Free
Rocky Mountain Way — Joe Walsh
Twist And Shout — The Beatles
Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress — The Hollies
Badge — Cream
Roll With The Changes — REO Speedwagon
Radar Love — Golden Earring
I’m Your Captain/Closer To Home — Grand Funk Railroad
Hold Your Head Up — Argent
Moby Dick/Bonzo’s Montreux — Led Zeppelin

Everyone A Valedictorian

In Dublin, Ohio, a suburb of Columbus, there are three high schools — and this year those schools produced a total of 222 valedictorians.  That’s fully 20 percent of the graduates from Dublin high schools this year.  One of the three high schools, Dublin Coffman, had 96 students who achieved “valedictorian” status.

There were about 800 students in my 1975 Upper Arlington High School graduating class, and there were less than 20 valedictorians.  They all achieved a perfect 4.0 grade point average — the higest possible GPA — during high school.  I knew many of them, and one was my best friend, The Entrepreneur.  He was a smart and motivated guy who worked hard to keep that four-point average because he knew that one misstep would knock him out of the running, and he really wanted to attain valedictorian status.  His friends, me included, were proud of him.

Those days are long gone in many schools, where educators consciously are trying to avoid competition for the “number one student” position.  And a 4.0 average is no longer the highest GPA you can get, either.  These days, many schools give additional GPA credit for “advanced” classes, to encourage students to take a more challenging curriculum.  At the Dublin schools, for example, you get “valedictorian” status if you achieve at least a 4.1 GPA.  The Dublin schools call students in that category “valedictorians” to allow them to qualify for college scholarships that are linked to valedictorian status.

(Apparently the Dublin schools don’t ask every one of their hundreds of valedictorians to make a speech at graduation — which means that the students really shouldn’t be called “valedictorians.”  A valedictory, after all, is a farewell address.  But, I digress.)

What does it mean when 20 percent of high school graduates obtain valedictorian status?  Call me old school — pun intended — but obviously being a valedictorian doesn’t mean what it once did.  You can’t help but wonder whether grade inflation has played a role and the “everyone gets a trophy” mentality hasn’t crept in to the academic honors process.

And, at a deeper level, it also reflects the diminished role of high schools.  For decades, high school was the end of the educational line for the vast majority of students.  Now high schools view themselves as just another step in the educational process, and their grading and honors policies are consciously designed to help their graduates get into the best colleges — where, perhaps, the real competition will begin.

Are we helping American students by designing high school to minimize real academic competition?  Because, at some point — whether in college, or in graduate school, or in the real world — true intellectual competition will in fact occur, and stress inevitably will come with it.  Maybe giving students a dose of competition and stress in high school would better prepare them for that oncoming reality.