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By Jeff Kirby
"Once A Wildcat, Always A Wildcat"

Of all things, the moment at 7:55 I wasn't prepared for.

This was on Friday night -- Homecoming night -- and I arrived at the Franklin football field plenty early. My niece Alison, a girl who is a showboat, goofball and a beautiful girl all rolled into one, was a candidate for Homecoming queen. I wanted to see the ceremony.

Turns out I saw so much more than that, much of which involved my former classmates. Pam Landis Bunnell sold me my ticket. Scott Craycraft manned the back gate and let me slide through, knowing full well I had no authority to be on the field. Scott Wallace, the head of security, looked the other way, knowing the same thing. Then Dr. Rick Chamberlain received a prestigeous award for his many years of service to the Wildcat athletic program.

Good stuff. Combine all that with a sea of red and black, and I was in heaven.

Later, when I was at the Springboro - Lebanon game (my daughter is a freshman cheerleader at Springboro), there was even more of a Franklin connection. For starters, I stood next to Kevin Hollon, another former classmate, who is now a teacher and coach at Springboro Junior High. We stood near Tom Benjamin, a former Wildcat football and basketball coach, who also now teaches and coaches at Springboro. And we watched a game that, believe it or not, also had a significant Franklin connection.

Lebanon's head coach is Shawn Lamb, the 1990 FHS grad who was a football and basketball standout (for Benj, no less). The Warriors' starting quarterback is Dusty Isaacs, son of 1979 FHS grad Roy Isaacs, who was a year behind me in school. And one of Lebanon's running backs is Trey Bonny, son of 1981 grad Chip Bonny, who after high school went on to play football at Yale. Trey and Chip have played in the annual Thanksgiving Day "Turkey Bowl" for probably the last ten years, still played at the Franklin pee wee football field.

I was beginning to think I was in some sort of Twilight Zone episode. I was reminded of my Wildcat heritage everywhere I turned.

But it was the moment at 7:55 that got me the most.

The Homecoming ceremony had ended. Alison, looking as beautiful as ever, had graciously watched Lauren Kennard assume the title of 2009 queen, a distinction she very much deserved. Alison, for her part, made me proud in the way she handled it, providing yet another reason she is such a great young woman.

I walked through Franklin Woods to my car, which was parked behind the Franklin High School. It's not a long walk. I could hear the sounds of the football game in the distance, which will always be one of the sweetest sounds ever for me. I closed the door and started my car. The clock told me it was 7:55.

That's when I had the moment I wasn't prepared for.

See, I haven't been in that parking lot for more than 30 years. From where I was parked, I could see the school up the slight incline. I remembered instantly that I always got to school at 7:55, time enough to get to my locker, say hey to a few friends, and then get to Mrs. Ayers' Pre-College Writing class. I think the bell rang at 8:15, which was a full three or four minutes before Jamie Wines walked in (a teacher at Harvard now). Jamie was always late, but that's another story.

For a moment, I froze. It was all so weird. If a song by Boston or Foreigner had come on the radio, I swear I would have been looking for a hidden camera.

Once A Wildcat, Always A Wildcat.

For a moment, I was in high school again and Steve Dalton's Camaro would come crusing down the hill. I would have fun day surrounded by people who would be friends for life. After school, there would be practice or a game, and then a trip to cruise through McDonald's. Tell me, what does a 17-year-old have to worry about?

I'm not sure how long I sat there, but it seemed like a long time. It was enjoyable. But then I did the one thing that most assuredly interrupted my daydream.

I looked in the mirror and didn't see a high school senior looking back at me. As a matter of fact, that guy had some gray hair. He wouldn't be playing any games that night, either.

But that's okay. The guy with some gray hair has some great moments, too.

Like today, for instance. I took my daughter to school and we had a nice conversation all the way there. It's something we've been doing for 10 years now. When she was younger, I'd stop in front of the school, wish her a good day and then get a kiss goodbye. As she's gotten older, I don't push the kissing thing, 'cause is there anything more embarrassing than being seen with your dad in front of the high school?

But today, after we said our goodbyes, she turned and gave me a kiss. I'm not sure what I did to deserve it. She turned and joined all the other kids walking into the building.

Before I pulled away, I had to chuckle.

I looked at the clock in my car.


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