If you appreciate high school football, even as much as a teetotaler admires an attractive bottle, and if your heart says America is more than an address, then you'd have to enjoy an Apache Flats Bobcats game.
For one thing, they begin every game—practice too, for that matter—with prayer. Folks here never even thought to consult the Supreme Court on the matter. And, as Lonnie Johnson is wont to say, “If anyone around here ever does while I'm alive, God help them.”
The opening invocation is followed by the Pledge of Allegiance—color guard provided by VFW members—and the Star Spangled Banner, sung by various members of the high school choir. Throughout, this isn't a matter of going through the motions. Everyone, players included, say and sing the words as if they really mean it.
You can still buy a cup of soda pop or hot chocolate for a quarter. Hot dogs, real ones go for 50 cents and a heaping high brisket sandwich can be had for a buck—all available from the Cub's Den snack-shack, manned by junior high students chomping at the bit for the day they get to play in real games. All of the cubs are still under the supervision of the high school home economics teacher and drill team coach, Mildred Mugwamp, whom current students suspect carried out the same duties even before popcorn was invented.
So, even if you never attended a single class at Rio Rojo County High School (which used to be Apache Flats Secondary), you can't help but be swept up in the whirlwind of camaraderie. On Senior Homecoming Night—held for parents and alumni the next home game after the traditional students' homecoming—the spirit multiplies exponentially.
Even folks from the opposing side get caught up in the festivities of Senior Night. More than one visiting parent has been made an honorary Bobcat over the years.
This year's festivities promised to be extra special, though, pitting the Bobcats against their oldest non-conference rival, the Worster Bull Weevils from Oklahoma.
As was customary, the Rio Rojo Cattlemen's Association commandeered the center section of the bleachers and served as the unofficial social coordinators for the boosters. This included having Delmar Jacobs lead the crowd in the school's fight song at halftime. Typically, well into his third flask by the end of the second quarter (to ward off the chill and its attendant maladies, no matter the temperature), an entire generation of Rio Rojo County youth had grown up singing the verse, “Go, Fight, Hith, The Caths Can't Mith,” rather than, “Go, Fight, Hiss, The Cats Can't Miss.” Thankfully, Mildred Mugwamp was always close at hand to help Delmar along if need be.
So it was at halftime with the score squarely knotted at nothing-nothing that Delmar wove his way out to the 50-yard-line.
“Ladies and Gehhnt…Ladies and Gheent…Folks,” started Delmar with a broad smile and a bow so low you'd have bet on a somersault, “Welcome to Senior Homecoming.” Practiced eyes could see the almost imperceptible way Mildred inched forward just in case she needed to field the wayward M.C.
Loud applause, accompanied by the Bobcat Swing Band.
“Welcome Weevilths, too,” continued Delmar. “It's a pleaas…it's a pleaas…happy you're here.” More warm applause. By now he was teetering back and forth like the pendulum on a newly wound grandfathers clock.
Sensing the impending disaster, not for the first time in these many years, Mildred Mugwamp looped a spindly arm around Delmar and grabbed the microphone. “What I believe Mr. Jacobs was trying to say before his excitement overcame him, and you'll soon see why he's so excited, is that for a special treat this evening before our drill team performs, we want to introduce you to the newest member of our team, a brand new mascot—Fuzzy the Bobcat—under the expert guidance of our very own Cosmo Carlson.”
A hush fell over the crowd. On one hand, it had been the better part of five years since the Bobcats and Weevils mascots had started a bleacher-clearing brawl, after which both schools agreed to never bring their mascots to the same field again. In actuality, both schools simply retired their mascot costumes in the name of discretion.
So, introducing a new mascot on the very field and against the very team that was at the root of the past furor would have been enough. But, Cosmo Carlson? Indeed an Apache Flats native, Cosmo had literally gone off to join the circus 32 years ago. He was now an itinerant circus clown who passed back through town from time to time. Moreover, he was a clown who had always aspired to much more, namely, the title and accolades of wild animal trainer. Folks who knew of him could only guess at the kind of feline he would have in tow.
“I didn't even know he was back in town,” said Hooter with glee.
“Me, ‘neither,” said Charlie. “This may be one for the ages.”
To a reverential drum roll, from the far end of the field, Cosmo appeared, decked out in all of his finest, including those same purple floppy shoes that had been a trademark from the beginning. Sure enough, trotting obediently alongside him, at the end of a purple leash, was what looked for all the world like a genuine bobcat.
“I'll give him this,” said Izzy Franklin loudly from two rows back, “He's got that manx cat sure enough looking the part.”
Once Cosmo and Fuzzy got to midfield, the clown took a gallant bow while the cat sat at his master's feet, answering all questions about his ancestry. Mildred Mugwamp handed Cosmo the microphone with a look that was just short of awe.
“Fellow bobcats!” squeaked Cosmo with both a painted-on and real grin, “It's a privilege to be back among my roots. And, it's with pride I dedicate Fuzzy the Bobcat to you.” Monster applause.
“I know of the little incident that occurred between our schools a few years back,” continued Cosmo. “And I want to make it plain to all you Weevils fans, the school has nothing to do with this. This is just something I wanted to do for my alma mater, a small token of appreciation for the education this fine institution afforded me. I hope you'll agree after seeing Fuzzy in action that we should all let bygones be just that, where our mascots are concerned.” More applause, albeit somewhat hesitant.
With that, Cosmo began putting Fuzzy through his paces. He had him stand on his legs to walk. He had him doing frontward and backward flips. Rolling over and playing dead, feigning attack, you name it. As much as the crowd was admiring the display, though, you could hear the collective breath go out of them when Cosmo leaned down and unhooked Fuzzy's leash.
“Really now, Mr. Cosmo, I mean Carlson,” tried Mildred Mugwamp politely, “I think we've all had quite a thrill, and are quite impressed. But, judging by the time, best finish up and give the drill team a chance.”
Cosmo didn't seem to pay any attention. On cue the Bobcat's quarterback trotted out onto the field, cradling a ball. Cosmo pointed toward the other end of the field and Billy Ray Johnson, looped up a 20-yard spiral. Just like that, Fuzzy had raced beneath the ball and snagged it carefully in his teeth. Then he returned it to Cosmo. The crowd was starting to warm up. Billy Ray launched the next one 25 yards, same results. Soon enough, the crowd was chanting, “Fuzz—ee, Fuzz—ee, Fuzz—ee,” cheering their new mascot on.
Finally, after Billy Ray had reached the end of his range at 42 yards—he was a true freshman after all—he turned and booted a magnificent 50-yard punt that seemed to hang forever, one that Fuzzy appeared to climb to the clouds for and snatch from the sky.
The crowd was going wild. The commotion was rattling Delmar Jacobs from his standing slumber. He abruptly grabbed the microphone from Mildred Mugwamp's hand as if he had dropped it a second before. He turned back to the crowd, “Ladies and gheent…ladies and gheent…” Even in his relaxed state he could sense from the horrified eyes and frozen mouths facing him, looking behind him, that something was amiss. Delmar turned in time to see the plaid orange and green backside of Cosmo waving frantically to slow Fuzzy's return trip, which spurred on by the crowd moments before was whipped and spurred at the speed of light. As if in slow motion, Fuzzy easily vaulted over the top of Cosmo's waving hands and landed squarely in front of Delmar, depositing the now deflated football at his feet. Whereupon and immediately Delmar Jacobs let out a scream of fright that would have scared a banshee, which won't soon be forgotten. He tipped over backward, followed in unison by Mildred Mugwamp, while Fuzzy darted for the hinterland in his own scared daze, followed by Cosmo running along behind as fast as his floppy purple shoes would allow.
The silence was broken by Delmar's sober sounding voice: “Go caths.”