When you venture around the small town in which I live, Centralia Illinois, you sadly will not find much. Centralia once was a booming economical center that joins three different counties. The profits of coal, oil, and railroad industries drove the local economy. Unfortunate those days are long gone and left in its wake only a memory of how things use to be. If one took an unbiased snap shot there is not really much unity, no economic growth, and a slight racial and social divide that is almost always over looked. Sadly enough if you stopped here you would find that Centralia on the outside resembles many other nameless small towns that are struggling for mere survival to avoid total extinction.
Over the past few weeks there seems to be a awaking if you will. It began with a simple contest by USA Today over the Best High School Mascot contest. One cannot venture anywhere in this small city without overhearing conversations about how many hours people have been online voting. (as I write Centralia Orphans currently hold a lead with over 63% of the total votes.) The Orphan nation have over 10 million votes in a town that hold less than 10,000 residences. The enthusiasm, pride, and accomplishment are overwhelming, it’s contagious, and it’s intoxicating all over a mascot.
I must confess I am not from Centralia; my family was called to serve a small church in August 2007. When I was told the high school mascot was an orphan my first thought was how depressing. Think about it for a minute. An orphan is an individual that is abandoned, unwanted, someone who has no one to love them, or show them attention. An Orphan is not a display of a fierce competitor. Anyone can defeat an orphan. I had heard the Orphans had the most wins in boys’ basketball than any other team in the national although they have not won a state title in approximately 70 years. I actually began to pity the orphans. I could not understand how a town could have pride in something so unbecoming. It seemed that this town had been orphaned by businesses, factories, state and local jobs, and a sense of hope. Maybe this town had been orphaned by success, advancement, and prosperity.
That is the image from the outside. Once you live here you will find that Orphans means so much more. Our mascot maybe the only thing holding this community together in desperate times of uncertainly, however it is much more than a mascot. It is a multi generational sense of pride. Great grandparents, grandparents, parents and children all were proud Orphans. Multi generations have an immediate common bound of unity, can share stories of sporting events over other rivals, and disclose the same experience with teacher, and staff who have served them at Centralia High School. Different generations can share names of players, coaches, and big games. This mascot allows those things that divide us to dissolve. This mascot represents not a weakness but an inner toughness that is ingrained in the people of this town. This mascot and contest means so much to this community because it is one way we can proclaim to the nation, this small town in Southern Illinois will not be forgotten. The saying is true that “once an orphan always an orphan.” As a proud parent of a senior Orphan and an incoming freshmen Orphan it is exactly why we choose to be an orphan. Being an Orphan instills a sense of pride, hard work, and determination that I desperately want instilled in my children. It is something not found anywhere else. I want them to develop the character of an orphan that no matter the task at hand, no matter the current circumstance, no matter what life throws at you, stand tall, be proud, and go change you world. It’s about being proud of the effort and hard work of each student, regardless of the accomplishments or success. What we all need to realize it that to be an orphan is to be loved not only by a school but by an entire community. It is something we all need at the deepest core of our being: to be loved by an entire community.
When we win this contest will our city’s troubles be miraculous cured? No. But will we will face the future knowing that when this community unites it can make a nation stand up and take notice. We will be better off as we face an uncertain tomorrow with a new since of strength, pride, and resolve. Maybe we can use this awakening to address what we can do to better our community. At the very least we will have let the entire nation know we are Orphans, we are proud, and being an orphan is much more than you know unless you experience it. What’s with the mascot? Everything because it is more than meets the eye as our entire nation would be better off if we simple had more Orphans.