Larry Lee writes about a small town in Alabama called Fruitdale. He describes the central role of the public schools in that community. It is the anchor of the community.

The charter lobby doesn’t care about Fruitdale, its history, its people, its future. They have dollar signs in their eyes.

He begins:

Sweet Jesus. It was hot, like really, really hot. But what do you expect on an August afternoon in the middle of a football field just 90 miles from the Gulf of Mexico?
I was there to watch the 2019 version of the Fruitdale Pirates practice. Fruitdale is one of five high schools in Washington County. It’s a 1A school, the smallest classification in Alabama high school sports. There are dozens and dozens of such schools across the state, places where Dollar General coming to town is a big deal. (Fruitdale recently opened one.)

Places where community and school are joined at the hip. Take away the school and you’ve jerked the heart from the community.

This August afternoon coach Johnny Carpenter was getting his 32 players ready for their first game against A. L. Johnson of Marengo County. Carpenter grew up just down the road in Citronelle, played football at Mississippi State and met a cheerleader in college who later became both his wife and an M.D. This is his first year as a head coach.

When you coach at this level, you do it all. From teaching class, to cooking ribs for a fund-raiser, to lining the field, to selling signs to merchants to help pay the bills and to actually coaching. His staff is another teacher/coach, John Hobbs. Former player Michael Dubose is a volunteer coach.
There was a pep rally before the first game. Elementary, middle and high school students sweated and yelled. Cheerleaders cheered. Players were introduced. Later that afternoon, fifth grade boys went home and ran around their yard with a football dreaming of the day they could be a Pirate scoring touchdowns and making tackles. Fourth grade girls jumped and pumped their arms and yelled for their team.

I know about dreams and memories. Fifty-nine years ago this fall number 83 of the Theodore Bobcats scored the only touchdown of his high school football career. Quarterback Charles Bryant threw a short pass to his left end, a 160 pound farm boy, standing in the end zone. That touchdown catch will always be mine. No one can take it away from me.

More than anything, that is what Fruitdale is all about. A small school in a small place where dreams are realized and memories are made.