EDITOR'S NOTE: This column was inadvertently truncated in the weekend edition. The complete column is reposted below:
I grew up in a place much like the small towns in Nebraska. Football was king and the whole town supported it. On Friday night, every business was locked up tight because practically everybody in town was at the high school football game. Everyone from the owners and the entrepreneurs to the working man shared a common bond for two and a half hours a week and that was Atkins Red Devil Football. In my class we had 26 guys. 25 of us played football and the one who didn't was valedictorian. In all my years, there has never been anything as thrilling as putting on the freshly washed red and white uniform and my brand new black football shoes and running out into the bright lights of Lemley field with the crowd going wild. And if we had a good game, on Saturday we would walk up town to the barber shop and take a chair, even though we usually didn't need a haircut, because we reveled in the admiration that the older guys would give us when they came in. If we had a bad game, we would just stay home and pledge to have a better game next week so we could go back to the barber shop again. These were what Bruce Springsteen called the "Glory Days" and they certain were. All I have to do is think back on those times and I get the same feelings I had when I was young.
And so it was in Culbertson a few years ago. They had a great football team and the whole town turned out for them, just like they did for us and thousands of other football players around the country. Pete Smith and I would go to the Culbertson home games practically every week, stand and walk the fence with Rusty Eisenhart and root the Bears on. Rusty's son, Ben, was a member of that team and he went on, as most of you know, to be an outstanding player for the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Ben had a supporting cast of great teammates and they were always fun to watch. At halftime and after the game, many would go down to the Bear Cave or the Quarter Moon for refreshments. If they did it at halftime, they would hurry back to the field because they didn't want to miss a single play. If it was after the game, the socializing, the talking, and the bragging went on usually until it was time for the bar to close. This is what made Culbertson what it was. This was the one thing that brought everyone together with a common bond and at least, for a couple of hours, they all rooted for the same thing no matter who they were.
I write this column now because of a conversation I had earlier in the week with Kenny Wilson, the announcer for all the Culbertson football games and, during the time Pete and I were going, his son was the quarterback. Kenny said when the decision was made to shut down the high school, the lights went out in Culbertson. I agreed and they'll most likely never come on again because the one common denominator everyone had was suddenly taken away. And when it was, their common bond was taken away too. The Quarter Moon burned down and was not rebuilt and the Bear Cave is only a shadow of what it used to be. Culbertson kids are now going to school in Trenton, Hayes Center and McCook and so the loyalties that meant so much to everyone are now divided.
I know about finances, money and the bottom line and I know this is happening across the state. But so much is lost when a school is closed that can never be quantitatively calculated. You lose the very heart and soul of the town. You lose the social contract that was thought to be essential when this country first started. But more than anything, you lose a town's essence of what it's all about.
And that's what happened in Culbertson. The town is still there and about the same number of people live there now as then. But something significant is missing and that something is a high school and athletic teams that the town called their own; teams that produced a collective consciousness among the Culbertson natives whenever they played. And when you pull the plug on them to save a dime, so many intangible things are lost in the process that can never be regained.
And in the end, everyone is poorer because of those decisions.