It had been a long week, marked by early mornings, the painful mockery of sexual abuse victims, the subsequent triggering of memories for myself and those I love, and the hope that the delightful and determined Elizabeth Holiday would keep her big girl panties dry on my watch (only one little "accident"). Since Larry and I were already in Ashland for a meeting on Friday, we decided to set our worries aside for a few hours and head to Community Stadium for an Ashland Arrows football game.
It was a perfect night for football. The earlier showers had subsided, and excitement was in the air as we splurged for reserved seats on the 50-yard line. Purchasing our supper at the concession stand, we greeted a band parent friend, doing his duty for his youngest child. Climbing into the stands, we greeted other friends who had gathered to enjoy the Friday night lights of Northeast Ohio.
We picked a great night to come. With Halloween just around the corner, many of the high school students were participating in costume night. The AHS cheerleading squad was augmented by a hundred or so energetic little girls, getting a chance to cheer their Arrows on with great enthusiasm, even if they paid little attention to the game. Eighth-grade musicians joined the AHS band for the night, ready to try out their chops on the gridiron, and the halftime show welcomed the Ashland University band to the field as well, as the combined bands filled the air with a brilliant sound that reverberated into the night.
Our hometown Arrows struggled through most of the game, but made a valiant effort to come back, taking the lead for a bit before Mansfield dug deep and finished a run to victory. Except for that last-minute defeat, we couldn’t have asked for a better evening.
Ever since our terrifying encounter with a frightened bat swooping around our living room at our Walnut Street house, I’ve been uneasy in their presence. Friday night’s bat seemed content to circle the stadium lights, but I still shivered, watching her beady eyes glisten. I never should have watched Hitchcock’s movie, "The Birds" back in the day. The body remembers.
As a deepening fog descended on Community Stadium during that fourth quarter, I was reminded of the pall that seems to be slipping over our country in these days, where clarity is difficult to ascertain. Even in the midst of a high school football game, I couldn’t shake the sense that we are living in a twilight zone of sorts.
Leaving the stadium on Friday night, I had no idea that this football game would be remembered not by the band show, the squealing mini-cheerleaders or the exciting fourth quarter action, but by bananas left in a locker room. Here’s what I understand happened. Because bananas are a good source of potassium, many long-distance runners swear by them as a remedy for depleted electrolytes. The AHS cross country team uses the visitor’s locker room during the week, and when they have bananas left over, they leave the fruit for the visiting football team. The presence of these bananas was seen as a racial taunt by some Mansfield football players and coaches. Spurred along by all kinds of postings on social media, calls for a full investigation from political candidates and reporting by the Cleveland television stations, now a Google search for bananas and cross country yields stories about Ashland and race relations.
Jason Goings, current Ashland High School assistant principal and athletic director, was tasked with responding, explaining the source of the fruit and noting the before-the-game apology to the Mansfield team. Goings recognizes the dilemma: "What we thought was a gesture of kindness was understandably not perceived so."
It’s easy to take offense on either side, and tempting to stir the pot with rumor and dissension. Yet might there be a different way? Even when foggy, could we courageously move deeper into the pain of racial struggle and the hard work of racial dialogue? Might we find a way forward so that leftover bananas yield the sweet fruit of reconciliation in our small corner of the world?
JoAnn Shade, author of "Only in Ashland: Reflections of a Smitten Immigrant," can be reached at email@example.com.