Sep 30, 2015 By Steven R. Peck

It still matters, because it encourages us to connect in a time of disconnection

Passing through Denver recently, a news staff member saw a marquee outside a huge, urban high school. "Homecoming Week," it read.

Somehow, that seemed odd. For big schools in huge cities, high school Homecoming must convey a detached, almost artificial feeling.

Around here, we still do Homecoming right.

The trade-offs to living in a smaller town are obvious to all who live in them. Truthfully, some of those comparisons come out in the big city's favor. But high school Homecoming, undeniably, is one of the annual joys in towns our size and smaller.

In places with just one high school, Homecoming still is a community-wide celebration. Windows of local businesses still get painted (we love our Ranger window's "Harry Potter" treatment, in which football players and mascots from this Friday's football opponent, the Rawlins Outlaws, are behind the bars of Azkaban, the wizard prison from the Harry Potter book series).

The annual Homecoming parade often is the best public procession of the year, invigorated by the participation and enthusiasm of our community's young people. Elementary schools are dismissed for the parade, and the streets are sealed off so the whole town must take notice --which it does, exuberantly.

Evenings are cooler as September greets October, and community members huddle around the Homecoming bonfire perhaps warmed internally by the spaghetti dinner and charged by the chants of the cheerleaders and the cadence of the drum line, all the while hearing personal echoes of fond times past.

A night or two later, the biggest concentration of humanity in the town's year sits together for the football game, to see the band, hear the cheers, smell the popcorn, clap as the convertibles inch in front of the grandstand, smile at the pretty girls wearing gowns and crowns, and root not just for the team or the school, but for the town.

There are many things pulling at the seams of community life these days, even in smaller towns. We gobble up the marvels of wireless communication and the instant contact it makes possible. It is promoted and celebrated as a way to "connect," but there can be no argument that it also can disconnect us. As we spend more time staring at electronic gadgets in our hands, we spend less time seeing the faces of our fellow human beings, less time hearing their voices, less time being in their presence, less time finding reason to assemble, less reason to think about the same things, more time to become absorbed by ourselves, not our community.

Because we can focus on ever-narrowing topics of fascination and avenues of contact, we lose common knowledge and shared interest -- shared not because we have each other's cell phone numbers and hashtags, but because we live together.

Here in the newspaper office, we remain big, big fans of that which encourages our mutual attention and attendance. County fairs, local elections, parades, concerts, ball games, plays, street festivals and rodeos -- they all still have the power to attract our notice, and if we are to participate in them we must turn our tunnel-vision focus away from the tiny, beeping gadgets 6 inches from our noses.

We must look outward, see the faces and hear the voices of others, share the experience of what they are doing, and be reminded that we are part of something bigger than ourselves, even in a small town.

That might sound like a heavy load to put on a bunch of high school kids and their week-long schedule of fun and football. But don't worry. Homecoming Week has been pulling this off in our communities for a long, long time. It works.

And if we're lucky -- and wise -- it can keep doing it for a long time to come. Let's see to it. Homecoming matters. Absolutely.

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