In many ways we were behind the times here in what seemed a protected backwater of family, church and patriotic convictions.
As the Vietnam War, Civil Rights, the youth movement and counter-revolution began to bring into focus a widening gap between the conservative mores of the ’50s and the younger generation, many of the old traditions were brought into question.
Even at Cherokee High School, there were signs of the changing times.
But one arena remained insulated from the cultural and societal river of changes, and that was high school football.
My freshman year at Cherokee opened a new social portal in my life under the Friday night lights, and for the next four years those 10 or so nights each fall became the apex of my week, and that of what seemed like most of the school.
It didn’t seem to matter that we never had a powerhouse team, a statistic that must have had many scratching their heads.
We were a farming community, with big guys who should have been dominating the field of sports. Somehow that never seemed to happen.
But it didn’t stop the excitement that would build as football season approached.
Warrior colors were proudly displayed in windows of businesses, people sported the red and white with conviction.
In those days Cherokee High was the only high school in the county, and that meant the entire community would get behind the team, from Free Home to Woodstock to Hickory Flat to Canton.
For once our community became united.
Fall always brings a quickening of the senses, a feeling that things are about to happen, as the air turns a little crisp and the days get a little shorter.
On Friday afternoons, that tension seemed to stretch, as the entire student body waited for sixth period to end early and everyone to pour out of the classrooms in all four halls of the school and walk along the crosswalks to the gymnasium.
There, the cheerleaders, football players and coaches would already be assembled, waiting like the stars of the night to play their roles.
We crowded the bleachers, eager to cheer them on and participate. There was no innuendo of detachment, no peer pressure to look down one’s nose at the proceedings.
After school everyone would head to town to the Canton Drug Store and the famed Warrior Room, where everything in the place that could be was colored in red and white, the booths, the stools, the white marble counter.
The art on the walls immortalized the Cherokee Warriors and the swarm of teens sported letter jackets and shirts and blouses in the team colors.
The place was a living shrine to Cherokee High football and that was how it should be, in all our minds.
Youth dominated the scene, with the occasional businessman or housewife stopping in for a cup of coffee or a milkshake looking strangely out of place.
Soon it was time to pile into the vehicles of those who had them and head over to the game.
The band blaring out the alma mater, the stands packed with families and fans of all ages, the touch of cool air rolling up from the Etowah River charged the night air with anticipation.
And then they came, those football players who would engage in battle that night to carry our colors forward, rushing onto the field through a path created by the cheerleaders to the roar of the crowd.
Later, win or lose, most of the students who came out to watch the game would drift over to the gym for a sock hop or jump back into cars to cruise the Burger Chief, the popular fast food joint named in honor of the teams at the local high school.
Somehow those football nights drew us all together, solidified not only our school spirit but our community pride.
Whatever undercurrents or causes or issues were dividing us, high school football brought us all back together.
In a changing time, it was gratifying that some things remained the same.
And still do.
A million years seem to have gone by since those days when I first went to high school, and while so much has changed dramatically, some things don’t change at all.
There are now six high schools fielding teams in Cherokee County, with the new River Ridge High taking to the field as a varsity team for the first time this year.
As the football season kicks off a new year, memories will be made that will last a lifetime.
Rebecca Johnston is managing editor of The Cherokee Tribune.