If they'd seen
kids named Jahon and Andochini and Kalif and Myron and DeArius and Jim and
Batuhan all running the same bleacher steps that they had run a half century
ago, and Kevin Nichols, the African-American ringleader of all the racial
jesting, asking Patrick Conley, the white tight end with the 4.3 GPA,
"What's the square root of these bleachers?" and Patrick cracking back
that black kids might know that if they didn't sleep through classes, and
everyone huffing and guffawing.
What would the
old-timers think if they returned to this cafeteria at lunch and felt little
racial tension in a school that's just more than half black, but watched the
students separate by habit to eat with kids of their own color, as three
football players--Quadel Foreman, Genesis Cole and Bryant Miller--shuttled
between the two groups, trying to build a bridge.
How would they
respond when white wide receiver Will Carson said, "I don't know how you
could be any good at football without black people." Imagine the
conversation that could trigger about stereotypes and assumptions, how they can
build barriers or be turned into humor to tear barriers down. And how often, on
both sides, they're dead wrong.
The old Tigers?
They might assume that today's Central High--its neighborhood wracked by
poverty and one of the state's highest violent crime rates-- couldn't be one of
America's elite academic institutions. But Newsweek last year rated it the
20th-best high school in America.
The new Tigers?
They'd assume that the fastest and strongest guys in the room would be theirs.
But Bruce Fullerton's 10 flat in the 100-yard dash and Buddy Tackett's
520-pound deadlift would smoke 'em all. They'd assume that Gen. Edwin Walker
was an integrationist. But he was arrested for sedition four years later as the
ringleader of riots attempting to prevent a black man, James Meredith, from
entering the University of Mississippi. Why, they'd even assume that they'd be
seeing the old Tigers here again on Sept. 25, when the world shows up on their
front lawn for the big anniversary. But wrong again. No, some of their
predecessors would tell them as they bid farewell. Too many years of feeling
stereotyped, ignored, forgotten and stigmatized.
would be it, the only chance for 67 teenagers to hear the story. The one about
how a bunch of old white guys, best damn football team in the United States,
got an inkling of how it feels to be black.