A Norman Rockwell Afternoon

Linda Burton posting from Pierre, South Dakota – “Here come the flags!” The little boy standing beside me stared big-eyed; his father coached him with enthusiastic phrases. “Just look at that! Flags, and the band!” I felt the enthusiasm myself; the high-stepping band drew all eyes towards them as they marched center street; the shower of candies flung from the floats brought squeals as kids scrambled to pick up the treasured sugar treats. It’s Homecoming Week at the high school, and that means, of course, a parade. I had parked the Scion on Missouri and walked to the corner of Pierre Street just as the drums came down the hill. The drums, and the horns; the floats and the firetrucks; the brightly painted vans and the dogs-on-a-leash wearing neckscarves of green, to match their owners shirts. A parade is all about showing off, marching right in front of the world to strut your stuff. A Homecoming Parade is a celebration of spirit; the spirit of the school; the spirit of the town. And the town loves to watch.

The last time I went to a high school homecoming parade I was in high school. And that was long, long ago. I was delighted when I noticed in the Capital Journal that Pierre’s T F Riggs High School was celebrating Homecoming this week. The Homecoming theme this year is “Under the Sea,” so students have an excuse to dress like pirates or cartoon characters; there’s a different dress code every day, such as “class colors” on Monday and “green and white day” on Friday.

At the Pep Rally last night the pep band performed, the chamber choir sang, and the Lady Govs competitive cheer and dance teams did their thing. Yesterday was also Coronation Day for the “Gov” and the “Lady Gov,” Matt Monfore and Anna Bondy received those honors. All week long there is bingo and limbo and drum-line marching through the halls; Friday starts out with a Spirit Breakfast, then the High School Olympics, a Powder Puff game, and the Governors football game against Brookings at 7 PM, with Thunder Alley bowling for everyone at Lariat Lanes afterwards.

But the Homecoming Parade on Tuesday was what I wanted to see, up close and personal, the small-town community spirit in action. The Capital Journal laid out the details: today’s parade would head out from the school parking lot at 6 PM, move down Washington Street to Capitol Avenue, then to Pierre Street and southward to Missouri Avenue by the American Legion cabin. So there I stood, camera in hand, watching the proud-waving parents and listening to the cheering crowd, laughing with the little boy beside me as he shyly crammed his pockets full of candy, hardly able to believe his good fortune. The baby in the stroller fell asleep before the end of it, and mommy smiled. This is small-town living at its best, I think; a Norman Rockwell come to life.

Note about T F Riggs High School, which sits on a hill overlooking the State Capitol: There are approximately 800 students in grades nine through twelve. The 52 teachers use a traditional schedule with seven 50-minute periods. The current facility was constructed in 1956 with a 2002 addition adding 22 new classrooms and two computer commons; the lobby and lunchroom were remodeled. Students consistently score above state and national averages on the ACT and the Dakota STEP test. About 70% of Riggs graduates attend a four-year college. The state laptop initiative provides a tablet computer to all students at the beginning of each year. The school mascot is “The Governors” and the school colors are Kelly green and white. http://pierre.k12.sd.us/schools/tfriggs

Note about Georgia Morse Middle School, which sits across the street from the State Capitol: GMMS teaches grades 6-8; the school has five computer labs, smartboards, document scanners, and dynamic software; four networked television monitors display student activities and announcements; the cafeteria has neon lights and artwork; there’s a separate entrance for each grade level.

Four elementary schools serve Pierre; Buchanan, Jefferson, McKinley and Washington.