Roger Marolt: Roger This
September 11, 2008
It’s a funny feeling returning to Aspen High School as a parent. Twenty-eight years after leaving the hallowed halls of that institution for “the last time” in a gangly body draped with a black gown and topped with tasseled mortar board, a heavier, slightly used, thin-haired version of me arrived back on campus last weekend to serve hot dogs from the Booster Club concession stand and yell instructions to the football and volleyball teams from the stands.
I feel that I am about the same as the skinny rebel without a cause or a clue running around with my same name in 1980, but know that I am not. The currents of time are weak if not incessant. They leave young bodies behind and carry with them memories that wash over older, different people along the way. That soothing, sometimes terrifying coolness we occasionally sense now is only the diluted runoff of our past pushing us to be a part of something familiar.
Between matches of the volleyball game I gazed towards the rafters of the gym for inspiration from above. As in every school gym worthy of being called that, banners hang from on high to give us bare information about league championships won in seasons gone by. We know the year of our Lord in which ultimate victory prevailed. It is left to our imaginations to fill in the details about what happened on lime-striped battlefields and parquet floors before.
There is “1976” stitched onto the baseball banner, the felt swatch with the briefest history of post-season triumph in a town more known for white spheroids packed from snow and tossed by tourists than those hard balls of yarn wrapped in horsehide fired towards the plate. I was the only freshman on that team. It was an honor cut short by a failing grade in Spanish that prevented me from traveling to the state playoffs and enduring a bus ride of hazing. Back then I thought the world was caving in, but miraculously here I stand on it today and todavia no hablo espanol bien.
Yet, even though I was a part of that history, I don’t take ownership of it. Like all the other years hanging above, it belongs to the team, which belongs to the school, which belongs to the community which lives forever.
I scanned the red and black festoons for other sports’ successes. I searched for the first Aspen High School championship. The year was 1905 and the sport was football. Incredible. My grandfather was a toddler then. Maybe my great-grandfather took him to the game.
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Who the hell did we play? The Model-T wasn’t in production until 1908, so we couldn’t have traveled too far. Basalt was barely incorporated, Carbondale was the regional center of potato farming, and only a handful of old miners remained in Ashcroft. The harsh winter of 1899 had already turned Independence into a ghost town.
What did we call ourselves? There were no skiers in town yet. The silver crash of 1893 pretty much put the kibosh on serious mining. If not “Miners” and “Skiers,” what was the school’s nickname? Maybe it was the “Fighting Specter.”
Whatever it was, I wondered when we changed it. I suppose at some point we transformed from tough, hardworking, regular folks to thin, tan people who like to yell “wa hoo!” as we swoosh through drifts of powder snow. Why we thought the name “Skiers” was appropriate for all sports is unclear. I’m sure it came in a moment of excitement that has now transcended generations.
Later, I walked the polished halls of Skierdom, where pictures of proud classes past hang for eternity and current students hang until their next class. I had to have a look at the talent that existed back at the turn of Y1.9K. Unfortunately, there weren’t any photos that old. The first was from 1934. There were about a dozen seniors that year. There was no clue as to what the mascot was. I learned other things, though. From 1948 through 1951 our school’s name was changed to Pitkin County High. The 1954 picture was the first with the Skier symbol drawn on the border. In the mid 1940s, classes moved from an old Victorian mansion into what is now the Red Brick Arts Center.
Only a few things pass the test of time. If the banners in our gym tell a story about us, then the dates listed on them are punctuation marks, causing us to pause as we peruse our own history. Winning might not be everything, but it is something people take note of a hundred years in the future. Certainly the details of particular games are forgotten, but the four digit numbers on those banners incite us to remember much more.
A few decades in the future, somebody will be watching a game at Aspen High School in the 10,000-seat Centurion Partners Arena, so named after the esteemed conglomerate that finally transformed Aspen from a Podunk ski resort in 2010 into a metropolis with real suburbs. Teams will travel 200 mph up Interstate 82 on nuclear powered buses that were inspired by the intrepid balls-to-the-wall style of today’s RFTA drivers, which will be a historical tidbit that nobody will remember. We might even call our team the “Managing Brokers” to more accurately reflect the personality of the town.
But, a victory in the league championships against the Glenwood Mall-ers or the Basalt Sprawlers will get the team’s “year” hung up in the rafters with all the others. The white cloth numbers will look no different from the rest and will connect Aspenites past, present, and future. The victory might even, for a little while, distract the town from the daily gossip that otherwise passes for sport.
Students, teachers, mascots, and even buildings change. But, these trivialities don’t matter. When we speak of the home team, it is never “they” and always “we.” It is worth the price of admission to take in a game on the local fields, watching kids play with our name on their jerseys. The perspective is inspiring.