To the casual observer, Saturday's rivalry might have seemed devoid of spirit. Sunny 70-degree summer-like weather and a big score early reduced the traditional chanting and cheering to just a few spirited bursts in the first half. However, wider and deeper than the frenzied cheering that often rocks the sidelines during The Game, there was a spirit evident along the sidelines that makes our rivalry with Lyndon Institute one worth celebrating, regardless of the score.
First, the people at LI demonstrated uncommon hospitality and grace by presenting us with a glass sculpture at midfield before the game started. They had already celebrated the seniors on our team, our cheerleading squad, and in our pep band. In presenting the sculpture, they not only celebrated their 150-year anniversary, but acknowledged our 175th as well. The sculpture consisted of two intertwining horns, one red and one green, attached to a base engraved with a line from Plutarch, "The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled." It will be displayed in our fieldhouse as a sign of our shared mission to provide world-class independent-school education to our communities and beyond.
This uncommon bond continued as Paul Wheeler, the LI Director of Athletics, invited us to join hands around the field as he read the following words:
This joined circle represents our community. Our children grow up here, attend schools in both communities, sometimes competing on the same teams, sometimes competing against each other. We form friendships and even marriages across community lines. Let this joining of hands serve as a reminder that we are here as one community to love each other, support each other, and enjoy one of the best football rivalries ever.
This sentiment has never been more evident as it has been this fall. Long gone are the days of vandalism and violence that sometimes marked rivalry weekend. Both schools realize that their success depends to a great degree on the health and success of the other. And the number of families who have alumni roots and/or students attending both schools continues to grow, only strengthening this spirit of mutual respect. As I walked up and down our sideline, I saw this respect in action: students from both schools sitting and walking together without incident, people who played against each other as students watching the game together, and children from the same family playing against each other.
I also heard a number of our alumni, many of whom were back for our Boarding Student Reunion Weekend, comment on how much the spirit of the rivalry has changed. However, even these students, some who only attended the Academy for one year, remembered the special spirit of the weekend with its traditional hallway decorating, Pep Chapel, parade down Main Street, bonfire, and pizza party. Several said that this weekend was the first time they had a tangible experience of being part of something bigger than themselves. This uncommon spirit of belonging helped make the Academy a second home to these alums, some of whom traveled halfway around the world to return for this weekend. The huge community turnout on Friday night and Saturday rekindled a true spirit of homecoming for them.
The spirit of Saturday spilled over into Sunday, as dozens of alums gathered as Alumni Ambassadors. This group of young professionals has shown uncommon loyalty to and interest in the Academy and have made major contributions to our continued success. As I talked with them Sunday about our successes, changes, and challenges, I was filled with pride, not only in the current state of our school and its prospects for the future, but also in the success of these young alums and in the devotion that they continue to have to our school. As a graduate of a regional public school, I have a different perspective on this kind of enduring connection with one's high school. It is more than uncommon; it is extraordinary.
I think the same thing can be said for the entire weekend. From the hospitality and grace of our rivals, to the friendship and respect between our schools, to the affection of our alums for their second home, to the loyalty of our alumni body—all of these exemplify an extraordinary spirit within our community. We do well to celebrate that spirit each fall during Homecoming Weekend and should continue to be mindful of it throughout the rest of the year.