Like many of the small towns in and around the Sacramento Valley, Auburn is a one high school town. Placer High School was founded in 1897, with the first class of 17 students graduating in 1900. Today – 119 years after its founding, Placer High School occupies the same site – and many of the same buildings – in downtown Auburn. Having graduated from a very similar high school in a very similar foothill town (Sonora High School was founded in 1903), I’ve enjoyed watching my oldest daughter, Lara, embrace the community spirit and sense of history and place that are part of a one-school town.
Lara is part of a group of girls who have played varsity soccer since they were freshman – and they’ve played soccer together (on club teams and on their junior high team) for longer than that. Since her freshman year, our family has donated and cooked lamb as a fundraiser for the Lady Hillmen Soccer Boosters Club (that’s right, Placer High teams are proudly known as Hillmen and Lady Hillmen). And each year, we cook dinner for the entire varsity squad after their game. My friends (and fellow soccer dads) Anthony Valdez and Eric Lopez have helped me cook every year. Last night, during Placer’s game with their main rival, Colfax, we cooked together for the last time in our daughters’ high school careers.
Sports – like farming – are a big part of small-town life. Unlike club sports – and, I think, unlike sports at suburban schools – being part of a high school team in a one-school town means more than simply being an athlete. As I’ve watched our girls play together for the last four years, I’ve realized that they understand that they are representing their town as well as their high school. Part of this stems from the fact that they run into folks in town who graduated from the same school 50 or 60 years ago. As a parent, I think this sense of community is vitally important – as is the feeling that other parents (and other community members) take an interest in our children’s lives. Similarly, the connection between farms and a community like Auburn means that folks in town take an interest in the modern-day continuation of our farming and ranching heritage.
Our last game was intense – Placer ended up beating Colfax 1-0. The stands were full (as they usually are), and the atmosphere was electric. For Anthony, Eric and I, the atmosphere was also a bit sentimental – we’re all realizing that our daughters will be moving on to a new chapter in their lives in the coming months. Fortunately, we each have younger daughters who will be Placer Lady Hillmen soccer teammates in two more years, so there will be more lamb barbecues in our future! And fortunately, our kids have learned what it means to be part of a small-town community.