It happened without warning or notice. It was part of a magical night at Wheatland High School.
Nothing out of the ordinary was expected. The football team was warming up on Homecoming night, before the big game, and then as per their pregame ritual, they rallied into the locker room for one last blast of pep talks and preparation from the coaches.
What happened next brought tears and cheers and thunderous applause and somewhere deep down in the throats it became hard to swallow. Homecoming. And our student athletes were suddenly standing at the edge of the stadium waiting to run on to the field, but it was different from anything else we had ever seen at Wheatland.
Five athletes were holding banners each on its own four-foot wooden flagpole. Four American flags and one Wyoming flag. Colter Guty was bearing the Wyoming bison. Jake Hicks, Ned Hagemen, Keegan Meyer and Ora Borton had the stars and stripes waving high above their heads.
And then. In they came. On a dead sprint and bearing the colors of our state and our nation. The rest of the team running behind as if to say, “we’ve got your back.” In a time when many are protesting this nation, disrespecting the flag of our heritage and even burning it in effigy, our boys chose to bear the flags instead of burning them.
The crowd as if being thrust up from ejector seats all stood and witnessed the character of 46 young men who chose to be patriots. Chose to have a voice in that silent run to their generation’s battles as our heroes did running into Yorktown in 1781, and as they did running that flag up a hill in 1945 at Iwo Jima, and climbing it up the rubble of fallen towers and planting it in piles of mangled steel in New York City in 2001.
Without saying a word, our team spoke volumes. And on this Homecoming, they chose to bring home the colors of sacrifice, of honor, tradition and of freedom.
The idea came from Wheatland student Katie Klein and carried it to Wheatland football player Jake Hicks who in turn presented the opportunity to the coaches, the team and the school. If we ever needed the young voices of democracy to ring out in America, it is here in 2020. It was here. In Wheatland.
“I saw videos of other football teams doing that with flags, but them getting suspended because they had different flags other than the American flag,” Klein said. “So, I thought about our team doing just American flags because it’s been a hard year for everyone and this shows our respect for America. The Wyoming flag was actually the football team’s idea. I just gave the idea to Jake and he ran with it.”
And run with it he did, leading out his troops on that Friday night before heading into battle with the Burns Broncs. Perhaps not realizing that they all were running to a much bigger battle that rages on for a Nation in peril.
The Bulldogs not only won the game in stellar fashion, 53-0, but those boys and those coaches and the little sophomore who not only had an idea, but the guts to respect who we are, won the pride and respect of each and every person who witnessed the display of patriotism on Homecoming night 2020.
We are Wheatland. We are Bulldogs. We are Patriots.