What if I were to ask you how many high schools there are in Watertown? I’d imagine you would automatically go to your purple. Your memory may be jogged with fond memories of powder puff games, Ki-Yi, burning of the “W”, basketball games, lunchroom chats, and many others. The Arrows certainly have tradition. What if I told you there is another high school in town with rich traditions as well?
Right off 14th ave, there is a little known school called Great Plains Lutheran, or GPL. They go by the Panthers. GPL has been in our community since 1996. It started off with an enrollment of 23 students. Today it has an enrollment of roughly 100. I’m not here to give you a history lesson on GPL. I guess I wonder why I don’t know anything about this school. I first saw it in November of 2013. I’ve learned more about it in the last 3 days then the last 17 years.
As I step across the glistening, shining, very nice hard wood floor, I hear normal basketball sounds. The squeaky shoes on above mention court, coaches calling out instruction, and of course the ball bouncing off the court. One thing that caught my eye was the constant positive vibe displayed. Compliments are being shot left and right with each one hitting welcoming ears. The one thing you don’t hear is any kind of trash talk at all. Each kid is respectful to not only their coaches but to their teammates. The team seems well disciplined as they transition from one set of drills to the other. A basketball practice however is not the intention of this post.
Sitting at a GPL game on a Monday night and it’s hard not to notice the lack of support from the community. The boys basketball program has had some success and yet the stands are almost empty. Sure you have some there. Parents of players, wives and husbands of coaches, and even a few alumni. What you won’t see is a gym full of erratic, screaming fans. If you want to truly hear the sounds of the game, come to this gym while an opponent is shooting a free throw. Not a sound; crickets and tumbleweeds is all you hear. You do hear cheering. You won’t hear booing. It’s considered bad sportsmanship.
The atmosphere may look and sound a little different but the game is the same. 14/18 year old kids playing varsity basketball. And while you can hear coaches communicating to players and the players communicating with each other, you can also hear the pen hitting the paper. Some students are doing homework while the game is being played. You may be thinking why. The dorms are closed to try and get more fan fare and support for the team. For those of you that played high school basketball for the Arrows, can you imagine playing in front of 50 people? How would your adrenaline be? Do you think you would be “pumped”? Maybe you could, but I’d be willing to bet it would be difficult. Imagine winning a conference tournament and getting little to zero support from your community. This has happened to GPL. A conference tournament was won and celebrated last year. You won’t see a banner hanging from the rafter though. You will see the Super Attendant walking around shaking hands and visiting. It’s similar to a politician at a political rally. Difference is the SA doesn’t want anything. He’s genuine and real.
Every high school basketball player dreams of hitting that last second shot to win the game. He’s bombarded by teammates with high fives, butt slaps, jumping up and down, and hugs. Smiles are grinning from ear to ear. Your coach is shaking hands all the while trying to stay calm and professional. When you finally have a second to breathe and try to enjoy the moment you realize that it’s awfully quiet. The visiting team fans have left and that was well over half the total attendance. Home games for GPL are nothing different than colors with an away game. They are routinely outdone by smaller communities. The kids are talented and deserve support from their community. They deserve to play in front of a sell out crowd. The deserve to know what raw adrenaline feels like. What feeding off the energy of the crowd is like.
I’m here by issuing a challenge to the city of Watertown to come support the GPL Panthers on Thursday, February 13th at 7:00 pm. They are at home against their arch rivals Waverly/South Shore. The game is free. There will be no charge to get in. The Arrows are also off that night. Speaking of the Arrows, I challenge the varsity basketball team to go support their peers. Give GPL the support you’ve been getting since you were in 4th grade. I challenge the Watertown Laker hockey team to come support another privately funded program. You know how hard it is to raise funds for equipment and what not. I challenge the captains of those teams to make this happen. I challenge you to get it to them. I challenge you to support these kids like you were supported and like your kids are supported. I challenge the city of Watertown to pack that gym on the 13th of February.
I’m not asking you come out for every game from now till the end of time. I’m asking you to make this one night something special. To put your own wants or needs aside and support your local community in a way it’s never seen before. I want you to be part of something that will be thrusted into the memories of that school forever. I want the 2014 GPL vs Waverly/South Shore game to be something that those kids will never forget. I want it to be known as the day the community got the back of the “little brother” I want you to issue this same challenge to your friends and family as well.
Chances are you’re not going to see a future NBA player or a division 1 NCAA player that night. I promise you will see something special. You will see the eyes of these kids light up. You will see the intensity rise. You will see the electricity of the moment elevate these kids to new heights they never knew existed. You will see dreams come true. You will remember the night you were part of something that wasn’t about you or yours. You will remember the night you made a complete stranger the happiest kid on the planet.
What are your plans on the 13th of February Watertown? What do you have going on that you can’t take a couple hours to make some dreams a reality? I challenge you for one night to support your community. To come enjoy some of the best concessions I’ve had at a high school sporting event. To come see a brand of basketball that you may not be accustom to. To give these kids an opportunity that so many of us take for granted. To do something different. To pay it forward. I challenge you to come and support these kids by cheering them on and giving them one night that they will never forget. There’s my challenge. I challenge you to watch a basketball game.
I challenge you to give these kids a night they will never forget. I challenge you to make a dream a reality. I know I’m up for it; Are you?