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Friday night lights, then and now

I took my first baton lesson when I was 3 years old. My sister had been twirling for a while, so baton practice and competitions were the norm for our family. Four of our baton teachers were Clemson Tiger majorettes and my parents grew up in Greenville, S.C. We frequented many a football game in Death Valley wearing purple and orange and hearing “Tiger Rag.” 

I’m not sure if it was an expectation from my mom and baton teachers or something I actually wanted to do, but I knew from an early age I would be twirling my baton at North Buncombe High School on Friday nights.

I grew up in Weaverville, a small town north of Asheville that’s much like Waynesville. Most people who went to high school with me were children and grandchildren of other North Buncombe alumni. My sister and I were out of the ordinary because our parents grew up in S.C. and didn’t move to Buncombe County until the 1960s. Weaverville back then definitely had a village vibe. Everybody knew everybody. 

In small town America, football is a big deal, and my sister and I were the ones twirling our batons during halftime as the team rested and fueled up for the second half. She and I only twirled together one year, when she was a senior and I was a freshman. 

Before games, I would jet home after school, change into my baton costume, fix my hair and put on make-up. I had to wear my hear in a bun on my head because we twirled fire batons and it’s very unsafe to twirl fire with long hair swinging around everywhere, especially during the 1980s when a lot of flammable hair products were being used. 

My parents and I would then ride over to the stadium early to meet the rest of the band. We performed a pre-game show, sat in the stands for the first quarter, prepped and warmed up during the second quarter then after halftime, we went back in the stands to cheer on the team. 

It’s hard to believe that was 20 years ago. Time really does fly. 

Football doesn’t seem as big of a deal in Weaverville as it once was. I’m not sure if it’s from a shift in football being the main thing to soccer and other sports taking precedence or what, but I attended a game there 10 years ago for my high school reunion and it wasn’t nearly as crowded as I remembered. 

Fast forward all these years to the County Clash that’s happening this weekend at Pisgah Memorial Stadium. Restaurant signs are changing marquees to read “Go Mounties!” or “Go Bears!” Local T-shirt companies are scraping the bottom of the barrel to find more gold and red ink, and most Haywood County schools are hosting spirit weeks to rev up for the game. 

We encourage the rivalry young, don’t we? 

My first county clash was years ago, around 2004 or 2005. I assumed it would be a high school football game similar to North Buncombe’s, but when I walked into that stadium, it was like nothing I’d ever imagined. Tens of thousands of people were vying for seats, helicopters were flying and TV crews were filming with all types of cameras. One side was a sea of gold and black and the other a sea of red and black. Even babies had Mountie and Bear tattoos on their cheeks. 

I was in literal awe. I can’t even remember who won. For me, the “show” was more exciting than the game. But then again, I’m not one to become entranced with a football game anyway. 

During my tenure as a teacher at Waynesville Middle, I had a lot of fun being part of the THS vs. PHS hoopla. With middle school kids nearing high school, they would get very pumped up about the rivalry. 

It’s been 20 years since I twirled my baton for the North Buncombe Black Hawks and once I had children, I stopped going to the Tuscola vs. Pisgah game. I didn’t attend either school and once I stopped teaching, I lost the connection to the game. But nevertheless, this week is always fun to watch, even from afar. 

I love that I live in a place where we wrap our arms around our two high schools and support the athletes no matter what color they’re wearing. The grandiosity of this game is rare and one-of-kind, so whether you’re a Mountie or a Bear, be safe and enjoy yourself under those Friday night lights.

(Susanna Barbee is a writer, editor and digital media specialist for Smoky Mountain News, Smoky Mountain Living and Mountain South Media. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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