National unity and school unity on display during 9/11 programOct 04, 2021 12:13PM ● By Justin Adams
Josh Eldridge performing the national anthem prior to Mountain Ridge’s homecoming game against Westlake. (Justin Adams/City Journals)
By Justin Adams | [email protected]
The Mountain Ridge football team’s Sep. 10 matchup with Westlake High was much more than a homecoming game. With that weekend marking the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the team took the opportunity to honor and remember that time in the country’s history.
“The booster club came to us and pitched the idea of making the game a big deal, and I loved it,” said head coach Mike Meifu.
Prior to fans arriving at the stadium, American flags were erected on the back of the bleachers. When the team entered the stadium, they did so silently and solemnly, carrying additional flags that were placed in the endzone. The program also included a moment when any veterans in attendance were asked to stand and be recognized.
But the climactic moment came when Josh Eldreige, a member of both the football team and the marching band, led a small group of fellow marching band members in the national anthem. For an event about national unity in the face of tragedy, it was fitting to end with an image that suggested unity between two groups of students that, at least traditionally, keep to themselves.
Think of all the classic high school movies, where all the students fit neatly into some group or another, be it the nerds, the jocks, the preps, etc. While those labels and group identities aren’t as rigid these days, Eldridge said there’s some truth to them.
“There’s definitely a lot of stereotypes that people live up to on either side,” he said.
While Eldridge grew up playing little league football, he left the sport when he started high school. But as a member of the school’s marching band, he had many opportunities to watch his former teammates having fun together. So for his senior year, Eldridge asked himself, ‘Why not do both?’
So he got together with Coach Meifu and band director James Densley, and together the three worked out a schedule that would allow him to practice with both squads throughout the week.
One might think that it would be hard to go from one practice to the other, with how different the two activities appear to be, but Eldridge said there are a lot of similarities.
“There’s a lot of discipline in both. In marching band you have to be very precise in how you stand and move. In football, on defense especially, you have to be very disciplined in your position or that will mess up everyone else. It’s the same for marching band. If you don’t perform to the best of your ability, that will affect the score for everyone,” he said.
In the beginning, Eldridge said his football teammates would sometimes tease him about his affiliation with the band. But over time, the teasing stopped and Eldridge even thinks he’s helped to form a bridge of mutual respect and friendship between the two sides.
“I’ve definitely seen a big change. It’s a really good vibe to see both sides of it,” he said.
As for the 9/11 game national anthem, Eldridge said he was grateful for the opportunity to help memorialize that day, but also the chance to publicly show that athleticism and artistic expression aren’t mutually exclusive.
Just as 9/11 reminds us that we’re all Americans, Eldridge’s performance perhaps reminded some of his fellow students that no matter what group(s) they “belong” to, they’re all part of a bigger school community.