I grew up going to junior high school in Branson before the big tourism boom hit. Yes, we did have our tourism season, but it ran from Memorial Day Weekend back in the 70’s to Labor Day Weekend. We had four basic music shows: The Baldknobbers, The Presley’s, The Plummer Family and the Foggy River Boys. We had Silver Dollar City and The Shepherd of the Hills, Mutton Hollow and Fun Spot.
I went to Jr. High at Branson from 1977-79. During that time our presidents were Ford and Carter; also back then 7th-9th graders stayed in the same building next to College Street, what used to be the old high school until the 1975-76 school year.
I remember the intense fear as a 7th grader walking in the courtyard. The courtyard sat between the two L-shaped buildings of the junior high, connecting near the office on one end and the gym on the other. There were various prickly bushes 8th and 9th grade boys enjoyed tossing 7th graders into in the courtyard. I remember looking both ways and behind me often as I made the treacherous journey. Another area of mischief frequently used was flat tires, where someone would walk behind you and quickly stomp on the back of your shoe, causing it to pop off your foot as you walked. My greatest fear, however, was the flagpole torture, where a group of older boys would pick you up, separate your legs, and ram you into a flagpole. Thankfully, I never endured this torture, but did survive the speed shift torture. A couple of 9th graders, who actually liked me, decided to lift me up to my toes and grab the hair on top of my head, pretending to speed shift from 1st gear to 4th, yanking my head and hair as they made their speeding car sound. With eyes watering I smiled and went back to my seat in the cafeteria, sensing I came oh so close to being scalped.
I remember running “the hill” for basketball with Coach Ellett my 7th and 8th grade years. The hill ran on the south side of the school and felt as steep if not steeper than Billy Goat Hill. (Natives will know where Billy Goat Hill is located). By the time we reached the top of the hill I felt like my legs were screaming deathly in pain, and my lungs burned like I had swallowed a pack of lit firecrackers. I can still smell the musty, sweaty hallways and stairs when we ran them for basketball and track on wet days. The sounds of our squeaking sneakers echoed off the concrete walls.
I remember playing kickball in PE below the school. More often than not the rubber ball would find its way traveling off the field towards downtown Branson. I also remember playing daredevil in the gym along with epic games of dodgeball. Back then our dodgeballs were not big, soft and harmless, but instead small, the size of a softball, and almost as hard.
I remember being in Student Council. The picture is of our Student Council my 7th grade year with our leader, Don Garner, in the back. I’m the one in the front row left with the stupid grin next to Curt Ladd and Roger Meadows. I got to go to a student council convention in Jefferson City. I had to share a room with 9th graders Joey King and David Dishman. I really liked both fellows, but Joey thought it fun to share scary, gory stories each night to make sure I slept with one eye open.
I remember the sock hop dances on the gym floor. I grew up in the country 12 miles from school, so only got to go to the dances by spending the night with my Grandma Margaret, who lived a few blocks below the school on College Street. I perfected my robot and Snoopy Happy Dance to the beat of Donna Summer and the Bee Gees Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. Slow dances were a special treat, though my sweaty palms and shaky knees said otherwise.
I remember the intense fear mixed with excitement the first day of classes my 7th grade year. Lockers were a new adventure, as well as changing clothes for PE, going to different classes and having a variety of teachers. I fondly remember many teachers in Jr. High, including Mrs. Powers, Mrs. Oetting, Coach Godfrey, Mr. Harris, Mr. King, Mr. Garner and Coach Harmon.
I especially remember the huge crush nearly all the Jr. High boys had on Mrs. Schofield in science. Her silky-smooth voice and slow, sensuous walk mesmerized us. I’ll leave it at that.
I remember getting along well with classmates and those older than me, but witnessed not the same treatment for other classmates. One student in my grade whose name I won’t mention to protect him in case he reads this, was picked on daily for his strange mannerisms. Today I recognize he was definitely on the autism scale, but back then students just thought him weird and an easy target. With shame I recall walking past him in the hallway, singing at the top of his lungs The Rhinestone Cowboy while students gathered around laughing and taunting. I saw him often alone, head down and shoulders slumped. How many times I could have sat by him in the cafeteria, given him a high five walking past him in the hallway, or telling others to leave him alone. A few times I did stand up for this poor soul, but most times I remained silent, fearful of being knocked down the coolness meter a few steps.
In those days there was no internet or cell phones. Bullying was accomplished at school and on the bus but took a break until the next day. Today, junior high youth deal with bullying at school, on the bus, and after school at home and even after hours via social networking. It’s a whole different world today, far more complex, stressful and complicated. No wonder suicide rates in Junior-High aged youth have skyrocketed over the past twenty years.
Junior High in Branson for me were glorious, but at times emotionally stressful years, but nothing compared to what kids deal with today. This is why I’m such a strong believer and fan of positive educators, coaches, youth pastors and WyldLife leaders (Junior High version of Young Life). These heros are needed today as never before. Sadly also, many junior high kids in today’s culture are being raised in single-parent homes, or living with Grandparents or other relatives because their parents are in jail or dead from drug overdoses. Kids are more confused that ever on what is truth with our ever-increasing misinformation superhighway giving conflicting views on matters that were once common sense.
Like the old TV show, my junior high years were often the Wonder Years. I fear that for many 11-13- year-olds today, it is now the Worry Years. Please pray with me for parents, grandparents, educators, youth workers and others who invest time with these precious souls. May we guide them gently and lovingly through these turbulent waters of adolescence.