She Put Music In My Heart

Ann AlfordToday I told a friend that I write when I grieve, there may not be enough words for this one.

Ann Alford has finished her concerto and now she has gone home to play for the Lord.

I was at the dentist office this morning waiting to be called to the back.  As I scrolled through Facebook, I saw a post from my friend Von, about Ms A passing.  I hoped it was someone else, but once I got back to my office I looked further and found out indeed it was her.

My heart immediately broke and I had to take a few minutes outside to myself, all I could think about was how much she loved us, all of us.

We were her band kids, a mis-matched group of high-school students that she challenged, rode hard, and saw reach our potential, all under her watchful eye.

I had quit band in the eight grade, too cool to be a band geek; that is until my 10th grade year when Ms. Alford told me I WOULD be in the symphonic band.  I didn’t argue with her, I just signed up.

I wasn’t a very good trumpet player and years away from the horn made me even worse.  I sat last seat, but she made me know I was where I belonged.  She pushed me and eventually I started to get better.

By the time marching season rolled around in the Fall, I was no longer last seat, I had graduated all the way up to third from last.

Ms. Alford drove us to be our best.  When we screwed up, we ran laps, when we didn’t live up to our potential, she had a steely gaze that could melt the toughest exterior, but we never doubted she loved us.

We were her kids and nothing made her prouder than when we did well.  As she flailed her arms to the beat, that wicked smile would sneak in and the twinkle in her eyes let us know we had it.

One year, as we were preparing for Marching Festival we had been a mess, it seemed like nothing we did was coming together to the standards Ms. Alford had set for us, not to mention the standards we had set for ourselves.

Thursday afternoon before Festival on Saturday, when it was time for rehearsal, we were instructed to meet Ms. Alford at the practice field and leave our instruments in the band room.

This couldn’t be good.

As we approached the field, I think we all expected to be running laps and marching drills, but when we arrived, cupcakes and drinks awaited us.

We got a pep talk that day about how good we were and how if we just put it all on the field, there was nothing or no one that could beat us.  Needless to say, we pulled all Superiors on Saturday beating much larger bands in the process.

Going into Symphonic Band Season, our end of season Festival would be the competition that would prove just how good we were.  Symphonic season wasn’t like football season, it was all about technique and skill, not putting on a great show.

On the first day of Symphonic Season, Ms. Alford put two pieces of music in front of us that had more sharps, tempo-changes and notes than most of us had ever seen before.

If I remember correctly the music was “Firebird” and a piece called “Mosque.” (Feel free to correct me if I am wrong.)

As we struggled through those pieces of music, Ms. Alford wouldn’t let us be defeated.  We were challenged in ways we never imagined and finally the notes started to fall into place, the tempos came and all those sharps didn’t seem so difficult any longer.

By the time Festival rolled around, we knew we were good, we knew we had it and so did she.  We walked onto that stage knowing we were about to blow the roof off and we did.

The smile on Ms. Alford’s face when we finished will always be etched on my heart.  Once again we ranked all Superiors and got a standing ovation from the crowd when we hit our last notes.

Ms. Alford knew our potential and she knew how to pull it out of us.

After symphonic season, we began planning for our Spring Concert, my favorite concert of the year.

The Spring Concert featured more familiar songs, ones that we could have fun with.  Not long before the spring concert season began, I had been chosen to participate in a regional competition in voice.

One of the pieces of music we would be playing that year during the Spring Concert was selections from the Broadway musical “A Chorus Line.”

Ms. Alford had an idea, I would sing “What I Did for Love,” the big solo number featured in the musical, I would be accompanied by the band.  YIKES, nothing like some pressure.

True to form, Ms. Alford coached me through it and on the day of our performance, I stepped to the microphone and did it, I sang accompanied by my fellow band members.

For all the years that I knew her, she was ill, but she never, ever let her illness affect her dedication to us.

She showed up every day, she challenged us and challenged her body to keep going.  She was dedicated to us and we were dedicated to her.

The last time I saw Ms. Alford was about eight years ago at my nephew’s High School graduation.

I had spotted her in the crowd shortly after we took our seats and she spotted me about the same time.  She smiled, I smiled and I mouthed “I love you.”  She smiled brighter.

After the ceremony was over, I made my way over to where she was, “Ken Rumsey, get over here and give me a hug,” she said and I did.  I hugged her with all my might and she hugged me right back.

She wanted to know about me and when I asked about how she was, in true Ann Alford form she never complained, she just laughed and said “old and mean.”  She was neither,  in my eyes and heart, she was still the loving woman who challenged me to be my best.

Ann Alford was more than a teacher.  She was an inspiration to a lot of kids that needed it, myself included.  She taught us to never settle for anything but our best.

Ms. Alford has now passed, I wish I had gotten to tell her one more time how much she meant to me and how much I loved her, but I suspect she knew that.

We all loved her and when the music fills my heart and my spirit soars, I know she is there, counting the beat and striking up the band.

Thanks Ms. Alford, this band geek owes you more than words can ever express and grieves more at your passing that one blog post can ever relay.

 

Our 2017 Rabun County Wildcats Made That Happen…..

Since the final horn blew on Friday night, ending a High School Football season unlike any other, I have been trying to find words that would honor the year that has just passed.

While I am sad that the score didn’t end with Rabun County on top, those feelings of heartbreak are far outweighed by pride, appreciation and respect.

When the history of Rabun County athletics is written, a final defeat will show as the outcome of our first-ever State Championship game.  But more than that defeat, the history will be punctuated with brotherhood, historic, unity, spirit and more.

I’m sad we lost the game, but my biggest concern is for these young men who went into battle and came up a bit short. I hope that they understand what they did for an entire community, a small town in north-Georgia’s Appalachia, in their fight for history, they brought us all together, they gave us pride and their efforts made us walk a bit taller.

When businesses line the sidewalks with balloons and signs and close early for a football game that is more about pride than any game played on the field.  Our 2017 Rabun County Wildcats made that happen.

When people start standing in line, in 30 degree weather, wrapped in layer upon layer of warm clothing, blankets and sleeping bags, that is more about history than any game played on the field.  Our 2017 Rabun County Wildcats made that happen.

When people arrive at the stadium 3 hours ahead of game time just to get a seat, that’s about unity.  Our 2017 Rabun County Wildcats made that happen.

On a night when the temperature never rose above freezing, thousands of Rabunites came together, we came together to support our team, we came together to remember a historic run, but we also came together to relive moments of our youth and to feel those feelings we hadn’t felt since we walked the hallways of Rabun County High School. Our 2017 Rabun County Wildcats made that happen!

The pain of defeat is obvious, yes it hurts to come up a bit short, but more than that pain, the feeling of pride made us pull out our Wildcat gear on Saturday morning and wash our town in red as we strolled Main Street searching for last-minute Christmas gifts.

And while the outcome of the game was obvious with minutes to go, our team never gave up, they never stopped chasing their dream, they kept fighting for their fans, the history of the moment and their brotherhood.  They fought to the last second, teaching many of us who may have forgotten that there is honor in the battle and by just being on the field at Frank Snyder Memorial Stadium they had secured a place in history that will live long after the pain of defeat subsides.

I hope that one day, the 2017 Rabun County Wildcats will look back with bursting pride on what they did over the weeks and months that led up to that final touchdown.  The lessons we learn in defeat are sometimes more important than those of victory.

What I learned on Friday night is that a group of young men can bring us all together, they can teach us about teamwork and working towards a goal and those are lessons that these young men will carry deep into their lives, lives that have been shaped by hard-work, dedication and unity.

Over the next weeks and months we will comfort these players.  We will tell them about what they have done for us and hopefully they will one day understand.

Our entire community owes a debt of gratitude to these young men, the coaches, the cheerleaders, the band.  We owe a debt of gratitude to them for what they did on and off the field, they showed us what we can do as a community when we come together.  They showed us what pride looks like.

It’s been a great season, both on and off the field, I hope we won’t forget the feelings and lessons these 2017 Rabun County Wildcats taught us!

No doubt, our coaches and the 2018 Wildcats will begin working soon for next year, they have quite a legacy to stand on and a community that stands behind them with PRIDE, RESPECT and UNITY!

Thank you Wildcats, you have done us all proud!

 

Christmas Playlist…. Go Tell It On The Mountain performed by Mercy Me

Tonight is the night my High School has dreamed of for the last 60 years….. playing for the State Championship in Football.

It should be an amazing night!  GO CATS!

A Night Like No Other….

Last night wasn’t a typical night, the Rabun County Wildcats played in the Final Four of the State Football Championships for a berth in the State Championship Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium next Saturday in Atlanta.

It wasn’t a typical night because it had never happened before, in the over 60 years of our football program, we  had never reached this point in the play-offs.

After dominating every team through the season, the Cats entered the game ranked #1 in the State, the only undefeated team left in the play-offs.

Our opponent, a strong, fast south-Georgia powerhouse, Brooks County had traveled the length of Georgia,  to the North Carolina line from the Florida line.  Bus loads of Brooks County fans had made the trek, it was going to be a battle to the end.

All week the topic of conversation in our small little mountain town centered around the game.  We were told to arrive at the stadium early as a huge crowd was expected and parking would fill up fast.

I woke up yesterday morning with a sense of excitement, lump in my throat and stomach that wouldn’t stop turning.  It seems as though that queasy feeling was contagious as I got texts through the day from friends that usually started something like…”I feel like I am going to throw-up,”  I could relate, I guess we all had Wildcat Fever!

By 4:30 friends were posting that they were standing in line to get into the stadium, the gates opened at 5.

Once I closed the store, I rushed home, took Lita out for the quickest walk she has ever had, threw some food out for her and was out the door by 5:15.

On my way to the stadium multiple texts tinged my phone “where are you,”  “I got our seats, just one row back from where we normally sit,” “hurry up, this place is rocking.”

I found my seat next to Becky Simmons Berliner, my friend since first grade, my friend that I have sat with during every game this season.  We both expressed our stomach pains and impending heart attacks, Becky telling me if we win she would cry, she just knew she would cry.

I knew the feeling, we had been waiting for a moment like this our entire lives, a night like no other, a night when history would be made.

By 6 pm the stadium was packed, now we only had an hour and a half to wait before the actual game began.  Looking around, Wildcat heroes from decades back had gathered to witness this monumental night, their hearts were on the field and their excitement was palpable, they knew this was their night too.

Finally it was game time, everyone was in place and the roar of the crowd from both sides of the field was deafening.

Brooks County scored first, after a scoreless first quarter, they got an uncharacteristic safety as the second quarter began.  A few plays later the Cats scored and we never looked back.

When we scored a touchdown at the beginning of the fourth quarter, as fans celebrated and cheered, I looked at my friend Becky, tears streaming down her face, a face filled with joy and excitement…. we were doing this, we were going to win!

And win we did!  The Rabun County Wildcats beat Brooks County 23 – 12 carrying an undefeated season to the Mercedes-Benz Stadium next Saturday for the chance at a State Championship.

As the clock made its final tick into history, students, parents and fans rushed onto the field to celebrate a feeling we have never had before, one step closer to a dream that has for many years seemed unreachable.

I celebrated in the stands for a bit and then made my way towards my car.

I saw my friend Meredith standing in the end-zone with her four-year old son, sound asleep on her shoulder.  He had no idea of the history made on that night, but one day his daddy, one of our coaches, will tell him about the year a group of boys set out on a mission to be the best.

He will tell his son about that historic night, on the field where he had played as a high school quarterback, and he will share the memories of that night when history was made.

Just before I reached my car, I ran into a group of Brooks County fans waiting to load their school bus for an overnight drive back to the other end of Georgia.  In the crowd I saw a single mom I had met at halftime.  She had ridden the bus from south-Georgia to see her son, a saxophone player, march.

The saxophone player’s mom and her friends were all disappointed, they wanted to win as badly as we did, but as we talked she reached out and gave me a hug and said “y’all win next week.”  I thanked her and we wished each other a good night and safe travels home.

By the time I got home, I was exhausted but couldn’t sleep.  I sat down and started thinking about the night… a night like no other.

When the history of last night is written, it will focus on Coach Lee Shaw, Bailey Fisher, Braxton Hicks, Cole Keener, Austin Jones, Andrew Barnes, Dawson Henricks, Gavyn Jones, Tanner Jarrard and all the others who contributed week after week to make this night become a reality.  But it will also feature the hundreds of young men who marched onto the field as part of the Wildcat Nation from decades past, men who didn’t have the same successes as the 2017 Wildcats, but men whose dream was fulfilled on December 1, 2017.

I couldn’t help but think about my mama and daddy, former coach and wife of the Wildcats.  I thought about Chris Mance, Merle and Frank Snyder, Ed Singleton, Bill Hall and my brother Tom, former Wildcats who celebrated in heaven on this magical night.

As I thought about this Wildcat team and all the others who had come before, I cried, tears of joy for a night like no other!

Next Saturday, we have an appointment…. an appointment at THE BENZ!  GO CATS!

 

 

Life’s Playlist….. Don’t Stop Believin by Journey

Tonight the Rabun County Wildcats play in round 2 of the State Playoffs.

Our entire community believes in them…..  we know their coaches believe in them……  and they believe in themselves!

My daddy always used to tell me “you gotta believe,” I DO!

GO CATS!