This week will see a milestone of the school year – Friday’s Mustang-Yukon football game. For some reason, over time, this event has gone beyond a contest, instigating a rivalry that’s not always pretty.
It’s something that has, at times, turned a high school sporting match into antagonism far removed from the field. From reports of students burning each other’s school flags and nasty social media exchanges to actually – and, yes, this is a real thing – beating a car with “Puke on Yukon” spray painted on it as a sort of school activity, this “rivalry” has at times strained good sportsmanship, to say the least.
To me, this lessens who we are – as students, as parents, as the Mustang community as a whole. Because, after all, this is, again, a high school football game. And, it also involves something perhaps those who take part in these little rivalries miss – the fact that these rivals are our neighbors and friends, family members and coworkers.
And, in cases, fellow students.
That’s in part because of the size of Mustang’s school district. While a particular student might attend Mustang schools, he or she could easily be a resident of Oklahoma City – or Yukon. So, these shows of school “spirit,” aimed at a rival team, could actually impact some of Mustang’s own.
It doesn’t help that this rivalry is not just something kept alive by students. And, it’s not the rivalry itself that’s the problem. It’s taking it to the next level, to cruel words, crueler actions – by people who talk about, who advocate the Mustang “1440” motto, one of kindness.
I’m not writing this as an indictment of all of that, however. This is a different sort of story, one that really is all about kindness, but it’s also about sadness, it’s about loss, it’s about family. It’s about how important this rivalry - and how we deal with it now – really can be.
This Friday is a test, of sorts, not for points or for pride, but for who we are, as people.
That’s because those Yukon rivals, those kids from up the road, have lost one of their own – and they need us, not to talk about who’s best or dwell on a game that will be forgotten in weeks, but to be there for them, as one.
It happened Friday. Like Mustang, Yukon’s band program is a strong and popular one. Like our kids who are out on the field and in the classroom practicing all summer, early mornings and into the evening, so too does the Millers’ band. And, it was on his way to one of those practices a horrible thing happened, a car accident, a family who lost their son, a school that lost a student, a band that lost a member, a friend.
“Three times today I had to stand in front of 180 amazing young people and tell them things that they did not want to hear, and it was every bit as awful as I imagined that scenario would be,” Yukon High School band director Darnell Zook posted on Facebook. “I’ve never had a worse day in Yukon, and I’ve never been so proud.”
I can’t, I don’t want to, imagine what this family is going through. But, I know on Friday, when the Yukon band takes the field, they will be a member short. And, that’s a pain that all of us know lasts longer than any football season.
Darnell is right to be proud – not only of this wonderful senior who has been lost, but of his other students, his staff and his community, all of whom have come together to remember a 17-year-old whose future has been cut short. We should be proud of our band members and staff who, among many others, have stood up to show their love to a band family larger than any one school, expressing their support and solidarity.
That, to me, is what our community is all about. That’s sportsmanship, that’s what gives me hope for a better tomorrow. And, it’s something that’s the best of all of us. We are more than a team, or a game or even a city – we’re Mustang, a community that cares for each other and for those beyond our borders.
Let’s show Yukon what we are on Friday and let’s remember what is truly important – to all of us.
In my career, I have been blessed to tell the stories of scores of people – from a visit by the President of the United States to Special Olympians, firefighters, marching band members, politicians, civil service and more.
Not all of those stories were earth-shaking; in fact, most of what I write about and photograph is very “normal,” just people living their lives. While I find many of those people to be extraordinary and their actions inspirational, others might not see it that way.
What is certain is that in the last nine years, I have seen much more good than bad – and for that I am both thankful and encouraged. It tells me that even when our world may seem to be at its worst, there is much more to be happy about than maybe we realize during our everyday grind.
Those high points – well, I can name several people through the years who have stood out, individuals and families who have been a living example of the best of all of us. People who have sacrificed, who have given of themselves, who take the hits but come back with love and honor rather than hate and anger. I could write a column about each (and I have about some; perhaps I will about more soon), but there is one who I would like to honor today.
His name is Lee Roy Chesser, or rather “Lee Roy the Bad Boy,” as he told me when I met.
This bad boy is all of 93 years old, a World War II veteran whom I had the honor of interviewing for a recent Mustang Times story. Lee Roy inspired so many feelings for me – he really is so, so funny, but he is also kind and warm, a man who has lived a life that has brought joy to others. He certainly did that for me.
Lee Roy’s story is, in a way, very similar to that of my own father’s. He grew up during the Great Depression and came to age during arguably the biggest conflict the world has ever known, World War II. After surviving that experience, Lee Roy came home, married, worked hard to support his family and now spends his days enjoying every day.
My dad, too, was a Depression child and served in the Merchant Marines in World War II, just like Lee Roy’s friend Bill Owens. He worked hard the rest of his life and never forgot his roots. But, in a way, that’s where the similarities end.
That’s because Lee Roy saw combat, real combat, as a medic who was part of the history of D-Day, the Battle of the Bulge and service in France, England and more. He saw men die; he helped many more live. It was something that could have broken him, but instead it inspired him – to live life fully and gratefully.
It’s a lesson we all can take to heart.
“I thanked God that I was able to return to our wonderful land,” Lee Roy said. “We saw the destruction, the awful devastation in England and France and people here had no idea how lucky we were that we didn’t have to go through that, how much those people went through and endured – Americans don’t often remember how much we have and how blessed we really are.”
Lee Roy is a blessing to everyone who’s known him. I know he’s a blessing to me, and he’s made me a better person for having the chance to be around him.
How much has Mustang Town Center affected the city and its residents?
It seems pretty easy to answer that question – from the thousands of people who attend special events, the families who travel to the library, to the pool, to the recreation center to gardeners and sports enthusiasts, to seniors coming together for fun and companionship.
All of these things were made possible by something seemingly small, but which has turned out to be a significant investment, a 1-cent sales tax. That tax has been in existence since 1996.
City officials are asking voters on Aug. 23 to continue that tax through its original expiration date of 2030. The request itself shows how well Mustang’s finances have been managed, as the obligations incurred in connection with the original tax will be paid off in 2017, more than 13 years ahead of schedule.
I think that’s a pretty good reason to consider officials’ proposal now to continue the tax. Doing so – extending a tax, not adding a new one – could provide at least $25 million for new projects across the city. Comprised of everything from public safety improvements and recreation add-ons to necessary infrastructure upgrades, all of those items proposed could mean a lot for Mustang and for its residents.
City Manager Tim Rooney and his staff, as well as Mayor Jay Adams and his fellow council members, are justifiably proud of the city’s financial position, particularly during a time when many municipalities are hurting, thanks to a messed up state economy and some classic examples of poor planning.
That’s clearly not the situation here. Administrators have been prudent with Mustang’s finances and are eying projects that would have a positive impact on everyone. A needed fire sub-station slated for the east side of town – complete with an emergency operations center – dispatch system upgrades and new equipment would help boost Mustang’s fire and police departments, both recognized throughout the state for the quality of their services and personnel.
It is easy to see how Mustang Parks and Recreation, the city library and senior center have made a difference in many, many lives. From the small children who might read their first words to those who enjoy the huge variety of programs made possible by the genius of Jean Heasley and her staff, the center is known far beyond the 12-square-miles of Mustang’s borders.
The approval of the continued sales tax would expand and continue the city’s forward momentum in these areas – and more. More sports teams will be able to enjoy Mustang’s facilities, more seniors will have the chance to make friends and continue their active lives, Wild Horse Park and its services will get bigger and better.
Of course, some of the things slated for completion, should voters approve the tax, aren’t really exciting. But, they are needed. Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality has issued mandates to update Mustang’s wastewater treatment plant, and a growing city will always need to upgrade and improve roads.
All of these things – and more – would be possible with the continuation of this tax, something I doubt any of us even notice. And, it’s paid for by a lot of people who don’t live within Mustang’s city limits, a benefit that is not just seen through the tax itself, but through those individuals and families who enjoy Mustang’s service. They are people who not only visit Town Center, but who eat dinner in our restaurants, buy gas and groceries here, people who might just move here because Mustang is such a great place to live.
Continuing this sale is an investment, a good investment. Mustang, and all of us, are worth it.
“Make America Great Again” has become both a beacon and a repulsion, a symbol of the divide across our country.
It’s a reminder of how nasty, tiring and controversial a political contest can be – and it seems no matter your party or beliefs, there’s no denial that this year’s election has been worse than most.
While that might be par for the course, “Make America Great Again” has moved beyond that. Up front, I want to emphasize this isn’t a comment on any particular candidate or party. It’s about something much bigger, something that transcends not just politics, but who we are and what we are as individuals, as Americans and as a community.
The more I hear “Make America Great Again” the more it bothers me in a way that has nothing to do with the presidential election or party politics. This slogan is a reflection not just on our political system, our economy, our international role – it’s an indictment on all of us.
And, it’s insulting.
Implying America is not great now is a disservice to us as a whole. Obviously, I can’t speak to everywhere, but I do know Mustang and Canadian County, I know our people. And, I don’t believe that most places across the USA are somehow inherently worse, that they are “terrible,” “horrible” or “embarrassing” as has been said.
Saying America is not great is to say Mustang is not great. I disagree. That statement doesn’t reflect the many people, organizations and business that honor who we are and what we believe in. “Make America Great” is an injustice to people like Mustang School Board member Mike Kessler, City Councilman Brian Grider and all of those who serve with them, residents who invest their time and energy to make our community better – for no pay and rarely any reward beyond knowing they are doing the right thing.
It’s a disservice to City Clerk Lisa Martin, children’s librarian Lizzy Moser, parks and recreation employee Austin Kern, all part of a team that has raised Mustang up and has made it something other communities has emulated.
It’s an insult to the members of our Masons Lodge, American Legion, Kiwanis, Mustang Rotary and more, all groups that work to help others every day, individuals who shine a light on the best of our community.
It overlooks the administrators, teachers, staff of Mustang Public Schools, a group that has worked to help our children live better and stronger lives, who look to a bright future for their students – and help them achieve it.
It discounts the lives of those students, their parents, their grandparents, their friends, their mentors. It belittles their achievements and their effort, their work and their dedication.
That doesn’t mean America is perfect. We have issues – intolerance, anger, crime, violence, misunderstandings. And, yes, things like racism and hatred. But, giving into those things doesn’t fix it, it only makes it worse. It doesn’t make America “great;” it makes America divided.
Mustang may not be the most racially diverse place in the United States, but in my years of covering Mustang and the rest of Canadian County, I have seen how we care for each other, how we work with each other and how we support each other. We are not a dark or dismal place; we are a place of light and love – a home to people who are there for each other.
We can do better, it’s true. “Make America Better” is always something we can strive for, something we should aspire to. But, we need to look at our many blessings in order to move forward in a positive way, in a way that truly honors all of us and what we are trying to do.
That’s what we do in Mustang. And that’s why Mustang is already great.