Monday, January 17, 2005

ahh... the joy of taking 40 middle schoolers to a hockey game... words cannot describe... but I will try...
When you live in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, hockey is a way of life. In our little town, even in the summer months, hockey dominates. Kids block off entire blocks of streets to play street hockey, and even more amazing, drivers take the long way through town to let the games continue. In the winter, parents drive 60 miles each way to take skaters to the nearest artificial ice so hockey players can practice and play. When winter finally sets in, and the weather permits, the old hockey building in town makes real ice. Our players much prefer to practice here, priding themselves on being the only team around who still does it the “old way”.
With hockey being so important to the Yooper culture, it only seemed natural to want to take our middle schoolers to a college hockey game. Our isolated location means many of our students never travel to new places or see things others take for granted, so a trip to a REAL hockey game is a REAL treat. Not only do you get the thrill of the hockey game, but you get to see things like traffic lights, fast food restaurants other than McDonald’s, and people, lots of them.
So plans were made, tickets were ordered, the bus requested…. 40 middle schoolers and 8 adults were eager for the adventure.
When I drove into school Friday night, I was bundled up on all my warm winter gear, long johns, turtleneck, sweatshirt, hat, gloves, boots, all in hopes I would not to freeze to death on the school bus. The air temps were below zero, the wind chills and treacherously low, in the minus 30’s and 40’s, and blizzard conditions were predicted for our route. But nothing was keeping us from going on this trip!
When I walked into the school, I was greeted by a throng of excited middle schoolers. As the crowd grew to our anticipated number, the excitement also grew. I checked the trip roster, and when the bus finally arrived 15 minutes late, we loaded up and off we drove into the cold and darkness of a snowstorm.
The bus was filled with laughter, songs, the smells of body emissions from those who must have eaten cabbage, beans, and other noxious gas producing foods for months before loading the bus, and the objections of those smelling those gases. But the laughter was the predominant, and the 100 miles passed quickly, with excitement building with every mile.
When we neared Marquette, I passed out hockey tickets, and went over the rules: Always stay with a buddy. Always let an adult know where you are going.
It seemed so simple… until we got to Berry Events Center, and the throng poured off the bus. The excitement was too much. I have been on many field trips, taken students to many events, but I have never seen such chaos ensue in such as short time. Students scattered in every possible direction, some headed to the rest rooms after the 2 hour bus ride; some were desperate for food; others found their seats. But everywhere I turned, there was a student alone!! There were like fleas on the back of a dog, crawling through the arena, mysteriously appearing and disappearing, alluding my attempts to herd them all back together.
By the time the National Anthem started, miraculously, all of them had made it to our section, and were seated, with enough food to feed a third world country’s entire population for a week.
I can’t say I saw a lot of the hockey game that night, with all the ups and downs, the questions, and the laughter, but I do know that I have never enjoyed a hockey game more. During the second period, the Northern Michigan University mascot, Wildcat Willy, came to visit. He was so amazing with my group. He had them in headlocks, he teased, he made them laugh, he had them cheering… Willy made us feel like we were the most important spectators at the game.
My students had made letters to hold up at the game that spelled out NEWBERRY MIDDLE SCHOOL LOVES THE NMU WILDCATS. The letters were in the school colors of green and gold, complete with sparkles. The process of making this message took hours of coordinating, and left my classroom covered in paint and glitter that may always be there. But it looked so amazing! It was spelled right!! They got them passed out in order!! They held the letter high above their heads and CHEERED!! Kids you would never see talking to each other at school, laughing together, working to spell out other words.
And soon, another chant arose from some: G is for Mrs. George… L is for Love… as they held the G and L high above their heads. I knew all the hard work to get this trip together for them was worth it in that instant.
Our team won the game. We managed to get the entire crew back on the bus, and headed home without major incidence. Until they started singing again... some strange song I had never heard that had places to put in people's names... about relationships or something... anyway, initially it was fun, but then of course it got out of hand.. and rude, so we made them stop... which all in all was not too bad I guess...
We got home a bit later than anticipated and it was 10 below when we did arrive... but what a night... what a wonderful night...

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