Even now, it is weird to go into a high school and it has been 30+ years since I was in high school. Walking in the door just starts a flow of memories—some good, some not.
It is a similar feeling when going to watch my teens perform at a band competition.
This past Saturday, as I was watching the competition, I started checking to see how many boys are participating in the color guard. I check because this is still one of those areas that is overwhelmingly female, which can cause boys to shy away. They shy away due to the teasing they will most likely get going out for a “girls” activity.
Although I have many first-evers, those things that you are the first in your family to do, like the first to move away, the first to travel to another country, the first to fly on an airplane, the first to get an advanced degree. You get the point and you may share some of those firsts in your own families.
The first ever that has both good and bad memories attached to it for me is when I tried out for the color guard of the Athens High School marching band in 1982.
Our band won many honors and trophies for our school. It was innovative for that time period and entertained many. I had always been fascinated with flags and rifles, and how they added to a show. For three years I dreamt of trying out, but was afraid because no guy had ever been a part of the guard. I mean it was, and still is, a small town, which can make change scary.
My senior year, I finally got up the nerve, and decided to try out for color guard. I was very scared of what might happen, what would be said, what would be implied (true or not), and how the adults would act or not act. I did it anyway.
The members of the guard were very welcoming and tried to help me with my skills. Remember, I was three years behind.
My friends overall were great too as they were used to me kind of being independent anyway.
The adult in charge of the band, not so happy. In fact, I was told he said fine in a truly sarcastic way, but if I got in I would have to wear the dress uniform as he wasn’t going to change the uniform to accommodate a guy.
The boys on the football team, who saw many of the practices, not so kind.
The strongest memory of trying out is of being in the common areas in front of the gym. The guard was there practicing marching and spinning the rifle at the same time.
While we were doing this, the entirety of the football team lined up parallel to us. They just stood there staring at me—all of them. They just stood there. A couple here and there started tossing out comments about dropping the rifle, why was a doing a girls’ thing, was I a fag. But mostly they just stood there and stared. To my credit, I kept doing what was expected of me for practice and didn’t stumble, which would have given them ammunition for further intimidation. But it was a moment in which I was very afraid, wondering if they planned on getting physical and how would I defend myself against 20 or so football players.
The bottom line is although I didn’t make it on the guard, I also didn’t drop out before the end of tryouts. I kept going and didn’t let them get to me, to let them win through intimidation. It is also my belief I helped pave the way for a boy to make it as drum major shortly thereafter.
I don’t know if a boy has ever made it on the AHS marching band or not, but I hope one finally did. And I hope he didn’t have to go through what I did.
Yes, there is fear in being the first at something, whether in your family or in society at-large. However, do it because whether you fully succeed or not, you do begin to shift peoples thinking and it gives courage to the next person to try, until finally someone makes it.
What was something you were the first ever to do? I’d like to hear your stories.