Jared Lankford: Small town school spirit lives

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Once a month, my mom will clear out her Saturday schedule for a lunch date. She gathers up the most recent photographs of her grandchildren, arms herself with the latest family updates and then heads off.

The restaurants vary, but the crew of two dozen or so women are still the same. They all graduated from Seneca together but keep in close contact.

Whether or not the Indians make the playoffs, most of the women and their husbands can be found in the stands on game nights. My parents relate to the players on the court or field by who they are related to from their graduating class.

On Monday, I traveled to Marionville to cover the Purdy-Marionville sectional softball game.

Experience has taught me to arrive early at these small school events, because parking is always a premium.

The school district in Purdy, like many small communities, is the town's largest employer.

Every longtime resident has passed through its doors to receive a diploma or been employed in some capacity.

The town knows, and deeply cares, about the events going on at the district. I am reminded of this fact if I fail to report a score from one of their games.

The park boasted just two sets of permanent bleachers, with two more temporary stands brought in for the event.

The Lady Eagles' fans had turned out in droves. By the time the first pitch was set to be thrown, a large crowd, as I had expected, had assembled to watch the playoff spectacle.

Three of the four stands were filled with vocal black and gold clad fanatics. The 200-foot first baseline fence was stacked arm to arm with lawn chairs, and two or three people standing behind the chairs - all from Purdy.

Almost 30 percent of the town's posted population of 1,100 had come to support their team.

So many Purdy fans had established themselves close to the field that the only place left for Marionville's crowd was up on the hill away from the action.

As I looked around, I saw every head coach from Purdy High School in attendance, except for one, who had taken his golf team to compete in the sectional tournament.

There were former teachers, retired teachers and alumni whose only connection to the team was the fact that they had once been Purdy students. Fans came as they were, some still in their work uniforms.

The black and gold fans cheered, led chants of "Three up, three down," "Everybody hits, everybody scores" and "Let's go, Eagles." They turned the city made famous for its large population of white squirrels into a home game for the Lady Eagles.

The Purdy enthusiasm affected the Marionville players and fans.

One Lady Comet partisan remarked to his wife, in a loud tone: "Our pitcher could focus better if their fans would knock that chatter off. They're making them nervous."

Purdy spotted Marionville three runs in the first inning, but that didn't stop the fans from rallying their troops. As the Lady Eagles began to chip away at the lead, the roar of approval reached a fever pitch by the 300-or-so fans from the little Barry County city.

With every hit, base runner and put-out, the Purdy faithful grew louder, even emboldened. You could see how the Lady Eagles players fed off their energy.

When the game was over, the entire team abbreviated their celebration to rush over and thanks the large contingent of fans that had created a special moment.

Despite the season ending

on Thursday in the quarterfinals, the memories forged by the players and fans will endure a lifetime.

As for my mom, she gets to tell her girlfriends that her youngest son got to go cover a great softball team from Purdy and thinks that they will challenge for a state title next year.

Jared Lankford is the sports editor of the Cassville Democrat. He may be reached at sports@cassville-democrat.com, or at 417-235-3135.

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