The Final Season
And at long last we come to the end of our October World Series Movie Marathon. The goddam Yankees won the goddam pennant, and then the goddam World Series, so we’re goddam glum. (Lee used to be a Yankee fan, but Steinbrenner finally got to be too much for her, especially when she heard they had built a new pigcapitalist “Yankee Stadium.”) But it’s been a fun ride, and it seems appropriate that the last one should have this title.
Sometimes “progress” is truly a dirty word. There are types of progress that have gone a long way to destroying this wonderful country. I guess nobody really called what happened to the Norway, Iowa, high school progress; pragmatism might be a better word. Norway was one of those stories it’s almost impossible to believe, but it is true. The town has a population of about 600, the high school at the time of this story, 1991, had 101 students. And yet year after year they fielded a baseball team that went to the state championships against schools with, literally, 10 times the enrollment, and they usually beat them. Nineteen times they had won the trophy! Nobody else in Iowa—and probably the rest of the country as well—had ever compiled a record like that. So what did the idiot school board decide to do? They merged the school with a nearby arch-rival, and shut it down forever. To save money. Because the bean counters could show that one big school cost less money than two small ones. The only thing they didn’t take into account—bean counters never do, they have no hearts—was the effect of this shit on the communities that were “modernized.” Try to imagine the pride that little community took in that ball team … and then double it, triple it, for the reality. Small communities have been dying in this country for many years as massive agribusiness snapped up small farms—also in the name of efficiency, that other dirty word—and other economic factors have driven people off the land and out of small towns. To my way of thinking, anything that can help a small town survive is a good idea. And it can be easily shown that closing a high school is one more stake in the heart of a community.
In their last season, the Norway team won the championship once more. But no appeals, no emotions, no sense of glory swayed these school board assholes. (I wish I knew their names, so I could personally insult them.) The school did close. You want to guess how many times the new, improved school with three or four times the enrollment has won anything in the last 18 years? I’ll bet you know. Zero.
This film has a great heart, but I can only call it competently made. I enjoyed it perhaps more than it deserved because it stirred old memories. I never played sports, never had the aptitude for it. But we were, in a small, less dramatic way, a little like Norway. Nederland High was a AAA school. Our football team was often in contention for the AAA state title. (We won it twice.) Naturally, this being Texas, the Bulldogs were a source of great pride to the little town, (population 12,000 when I lived there). But there was another thing everyone in town was proud of, and that was the Golden Pride of the Golden Triangle, the Nederland High School Band. We consistently placed at the top in both marching and concert competitions. We were chosen out of all the bands in Texas to march in John Kennedy’s inauguration parade. God, we were glorious.
And how did we do it? The same way Norway did, with a great teacher, a man who would not settle for second best. For Norway it was Jim Van Scoyoc. For Nederland it was Orville R. Kelley, the best teacher I ever had, and I was lucky enough to have five great ones. (I feel anyone is lucky to have two.) One can’t say enough about teachers like that, and coaches, and band directors. Where would we be without them? Well, I’m very afraid we are soon to find out, as more and more are being driven out of the profession by bullshit like what went down in Iowa, and many other forms of bullshit. When Norway High folded, they never were any good again. When Orville Kelley left NHS, the band never won anything again, either.