Blue on black
So I had this whole column written out about love languages just in time for Valentine’s Day, and I had to leave that in my draft folder because they released the proposed uniforms for the Ripley High School Marching Band, and people lost their minds.
If you haven’t seen the proposed uniforms, you can go Facebook and check them out on the Ripley High band page, and if you feel strongly about them one way or the other, you can leave a comment, but I’d highly recommend you just study the picture and then go on about your day. By the time this column runs, there might also be a story about it in the paper by the always - delightful writer Suzette Lowe, and I imagine a picture of said uniform will accompany such an article. But if my column is the only thing you read in the paper (and if it is, please, please let me know so I have something to impress my mother with.), I’ll sum up the discord very succinctly by telling you the proposed uniform is blue and white on one half, then has black pants that ombre up into white for the other half. And y’all, people have real feelings about that black.
Let me start out by saying that I haven’t seen a marching band in action since the last time I watched “Drumline” on the big T.V. in my house, so I couldn’t tell you what is and isn’t au courant in the world of band and majorette uniforms (are they majorettes still, or do they prefer “twirlers?” I personally like “twirlers,” but that’s because my dance skills are limited to “twirling” in a circle until I fall down). Reading through some of the comments on the uniforms, the Pro-Black group keeps pointing out that black, as a neutral, makes the royal blue and white not only pop, but having it on one-half of the uniform allows for some very cool optics on the field during formations. All of which sounds very reasonable and thought-out, and explains why the current bands kids chose this uniform.
But I don’t think you have to be a band kid, or have lived in the JCO for longer than a year, to understand why adding black to the Ripley High uniform has everyone in a tizzy. As more and more counties in West Virginia consolidate schools in the upper levels, we have managed to maintain two high schools, and as such, have maintained a hundred-year-old rivalry with our neighbor to the north, the Ravenswood Red Devils.
One of the things that makes this rivalry easy to maintain is the fact that our colors don’t really cross. Ripley is blue, white, and touches of gold. Ravenswood is red, black, and touches of white. When we all come together like the Captain Planet Planeteers at the Fourth of July, we create a patriotic color mélange just long enough to celebrate America, and then separate back out again like oil and water. I don’t know how counties like Kanawha, who have no less than three high schools that sport black and red as their school colors, can feel the joy that comes with rolling into your rival town with your school colors blazing as you get ready to cheer on your team, if that team has the exact same colors as you. So there is something to be said for avoiding cross-color contamination, especially in a county where a rivalry is as hot as the Ripley/ Ravenswood one has been for years.
And yet… maybe it’s time to admit something that’s hard for me to write, me being a person who at a Hatchet game in her high school years, and caught up in the adrenaline that comes with watching your team in the biggest game of the year, heard a small Ravenswood child yell out “Ripley sucks!,” right in front of her, and proceeded to tell that same small child there was no Santa Claus, and to get back on his side of the field. It’s the most school spirit I’ve probably ever shown in my life. Do I think I scarred that child for life? Doubt it; if you’re telling a crowd full of your enemy school that they suck, you probably stopped believing in Santa a long time ago. But am I proud that I took a stand for Vikings everywhere? You bet your Hatchet I am.
So knowing that I too can be infected with the blue and white spirit to the point where I will potentially ruin a child’s childhood to prove my allegiance, I have to admit that what was once a rivalry… really isn’t anymore.
It actually has nothing to do sports, although we all know there isn’t going to be a Hatchet game next season, and once you start not-playing those kinds of rival games, it becomes easier and easier to never have them again. Before long, we’ll just be towns that have our own high schools that occasionally meet in sports that don’t have the emphasis on rankings the way football and the like does. In another generation, people like me will ask “Wonder what happened to the Hatchet trophy?” and some smart-aleck (and in desperate need of a history lesson) Ripley High student will say “What are you talking about, Boomer?” before speeding off in their Jetson-like electric car, listening to whatever autotune song that’s passing for music at top volume as they streak off across the county to watch their friends from Ravenswood play at Flinn Field.
That’s why the new generation doesn’t give a flip about black pants: because these kids now are crossing that I-77 divide all the time. It happened slowly, but it happened, thanks to social media, travel sports teams, younger people going to all different churches across the county (not just their local one), and so on, but now these young kids are all friends, and their physical location doesn’t mean anything to them. To us older adults, especially those of us that grew up in the very southern and very northern areas of the county, the chances of us meeting someone from the other town was pretty slim. I had no reason to go to Ravenswood as a kid, and we always did our big shopping in Charleston, so my experience with kids from the northern end of the county was limited to my BFF Brenda who lived in Medina, and she didn’t even let us come visit her at her house until we were well into grad school.
I honestly don’t think I made a legit friend from Ravenswood until I was in college; I literally had to go all the way to Buckhannon to make friends with a Red Devil who lived fifteen miles from my house. But not these kids nowadays; these kids are crossing that invisible divide all the time, with a simple Instagram post or SnapChat or TikTok. What we all once saw as our rivals, in sports, in academics, in county resources, they just see as one of them online. It was easy for our generation to maintain a rivalry: we only usually saw each other on the fields of sports battles. But it’s a lot harder to be rivals with someone whose Insta stories always look super cool.
So maybe, Xennials, Gen X, and Boomers, we need to admit to ourselves that it’s not the black of the uniform that’s upsetting: it’s that a rivalry that we’ve all held dear for its excitement, its intensity, and its ability to make even the most sedate of sports fans rise to their feet in support of their school, is coming to a close, and what’s more, the new generation isn’t upset by that. It’s just a uniform, but it’s also a little bit of an embracement of the change in attitude that black is just a color, not a symbol in a rivalry that’s maybe not so rivalrous anymore.
Maybe we need to take a social cue from this new generation (but they can keep their music- the last good autotuned song was Cher’s “Believe” and it should have died after that), and embrace the change that’s already here. Doesn’t have to be a big embrace, doesn’t have to be a loud one, and embracing it won’t erase a hundred years of amazing Viking/ Red Devil meet ups, and what they meant to all of us, to our shared history, and to our community spirits.
It’s just being okay with the look of royal blue on black.