Roach: Friday night fights

Edgewood high school never plays on its home field

It was an autumn night return from a business trip to Green Bay. Highway 41 South was humming beneath the car as I barreled home.

The sun was setting and every few miles, off in the distance, appeared the glow of lights. I put the AM radio on scan and for the next 50 miles I listened to the romantic sound of local announcers describing the excitement and heartbreak of high school football. The Sheboygan South Redwings taking on the Jaguars of Ashwaubenon. The Terrors of Appleton West battling the Galloping Ghosts of Kaukauna. As I slid onto Highway 26, the Waupun Warriors contest against the New Holstein Huskies emerged from the static.

And all along the horizon, there were great domes of light. Communities gathering to cheer and laugh – moms and dads, girlfriends and grandparents, and older town folk who haven’t missed a game since the ’60s. Having played high school football, I can attest that no colors are as vivid as those of Friday night.

So, the question is this: How can it be that hundreds of cities in Wisconsin can find a home for the lights of high school activities – and the community soul such brilliance represents – and yet on Monroe Street in Madison, it is viewed as an unbearable imposition?

Such is the case for our city’s oldest high school and (full disclosure) the alma mater of my entire family, Edgewood High School. Since 1881, the Crusaders of Edgewood have never played a Friday night game on their home field. For the 137 years of its existence, Edgewood didn’t have the money for lights or a groomed field. So, like gypsies, the Crusaders were forced to play home games away at Breese Stevens Field, Warner, Mansfield, Lussier and even Middleton stadiums.

But recently, thanks to the generosity of the Goodman Foundation, the Crusaders now have a home field. In an era of mean tribalism, there is beauty in a charity founded by two generous Jewish businessmen supporting a school founded by Catholic sisters. But that’s Madison. Such unselfishness can be found everywhere.

Well, not everywhere.

Despite the fact that Edgewood games have finally found a home, there are those who take issue with it. Specifically, grumpy neighbors.

This is a recurring theme in the Monroe Street neighborhood.

Even though the representative city government and the community may approve of a building, restaurant, high school initiative or simply cars driving on the street, there is always a small cadre of Monroe Street neighbors who don’t approve. They are not elected, nor do they have any official power, but they have a remarkable ability to bring the activities and wishes of the broader community to a grinding halt. It costs them no money and little time. Yet, they persist in demanding such costs of others.

And so it is with the Friday night lights on Monroe Street. There is a small group of locals who can’t bear the awful noise of a high school ball game, even though the games end before 9:30 p.m. and the crowd rarely exceeds 1,000 fans.

This reaction is astounding. Honestly, what kind of person cannot bear the sounds of an innocent, wholesome, community gathering that has happened regularly in countless American communities across the country for decades?

Even more confounding, how can a person consciously move next to a high school that has been there since 1881 and not expect it to act like a high school that has been there since 1881?

A 51-year-old man named Bob Meyer said this about high school games at Edgewood to a Madison newspaper: “It wouldn’t fit any neighborhood with traffic and proximity.” What? There are thousands of high school athletic fields in neighborhoods all across America.

What Meyer and the elitist Monroe Street grousers don’t understand is that Monroe Street doesn’t belong solely to them. It belongs to everyone. Those of us who choose to live in Madison tacitly accept the notion of collectivity. The beltline doesn’t belong solely to the folks on the south end of Park Street. It belongs to us all. Capitol Square doesn’t belong just to those who live on Mifflin or King streets. It belongs to us all.

Get it?

But, as an Edgewood alum who wants to exhibit the values of my school and the generous, unselfish spirit of the Goodman Brothers, I’d like to make a peace offering to Mr. Meyer.
Sir, I will personally buy you a pair of Bose noise-canceling headphones and a dark pair of Ray-Bans so that the joy of Friday night can be enjoyed by many, but not offend your delicate senses. Please, let me know your address.

Madison-based television producer John Roach writes this column monthly. Reach him at johneroach@mac.com.

Click here for a letter to the editor in response to this column.