I wasn't planning to be at the Mansfield Senior homecoming last night. We were short a photographer and our editor, Larry Phillips, called me in to cover it for the normal photo gallery stuff. Smiley couples, glittery dresses, guys with fresh haircuts and too much cologne. You remember, right?
My assignment changed around 8:40 p.m., when the school was evacuated because someone called in a bomb threat and forced hundreds of students out into a chilly parking lot to wait things out. Like I said, I didn't plan to be at the Tygers' homecoming, but I'm glad I was.
A few years ago, that evacuation might have led directly to a "game over" outcome. Homecoming canceled, kids go home, and the school district sticky with the egg on its face. The C.A.V.E. people (Citizens Against Virtually Everything) would have been out in full force on Facebook with opinions on everything from dress codes to curriculum development. Richland Source would have reported on the whole mess, too. Go back a few years and last night would have been just another kick in the teeth for the Mansfield staff and students.
Not this time. What I saw last night was a student body and staff that wanted to celebrate a little, and they weren't about to let some moron behind a telephone get in the way. Kids were orderly and patient while they waited in the cold, staff was empathetic and informative, and the cops were efficient in doing the job they had to do.
I talked to a number of students while we all stood around waiting. Their anger and annoyance was directed squarely and whoever was trying to get between them and the dance floor. I could tell they felt like they had earned some R&R, and one can make the argument that indeed they have. State report card grades are up a bit, the football team is undefeated, Superintendent Jefferson has the district united and moving forward... there's some pride in these Tygers. Good for them.
You can usually pick out the adults in any room by watching them deal with adversity and disappointment. They keep their cool. They don't fold up or lash out. Coaches call that quality, "poise under pressure." There was a great deal of poise Saturday night in that cold, damp parking lot. It gives me confidence that Mansfield Senior High School is building capable, honorable adults. I look forward to getting to know them as they grow up and help us move their city forward.