Rhodes: A Catalyst for change: From history to now

How we should respond to what happened at The Pit Friday night

In Minden, Friday nights in the Pit have for decades been a highlight in the lives of students, parents, and community members. From rivalry grudge matchups and pivotal playoff berths to exciting homecoming celebrations, emotional senior nights, and annual graduation ceremonies, W.W. Williams Stadium has hosted both Minden legends and emotional memories. Walking off Ash Street into this iconic North Louisiana sporting venue, one can’t help but reflect upon the rich history encapsulated into this little patch of earth. 

As early as 1936, the first Minden High football stadium was erected with seating for 350 people. Two years later, the first concrete stadium was constructed. In 1946, the East side concrete stands capacity was increased to hold 1200. Then, in 1955, on the West side of the field, a new stadium was built increasing the capacity to 5,000. After years of memories and proud traditions, the facility was demolished after a major flood event in 2016. In the Fall of 2017, “the Pit” reopened with a newly constructed stadium and field, ushering in a new era of experiences mixed with long-standing traditions.

For decades, multiple generations of family members have taken pride in Minden High School and its rich traditions and well-rounded educational experiences. Through the years, students and the surrounding community have faced a variety of adversities and challenges. Yet, even in the most difficult of times, Friday nights in the Fall have provided a time of unity, excitement, and pride. The Pit has served Mindenites well as a transition from the hectic world around them to a fun, relaxing weekend while enjoying the athleticism and dedication of student athletes.

On Friday, August 19, 2022, something changed. Thankfully, this is not a tragic tale of recounting the horrors or brutality of mortal violence. However, as reported elsewhere, that school day, which was only the 12th day of school for the 2022-23 school year, was interrupted by a round of student fighting. These fights resulted in all students being required to shelter in place for the remainder of the day. School officials and local law enforcement were able to get the situation at the school under control and ensure students were safe. 

It’s important to understand, this scenario is not necessarily new. The violent behavior of some students has long been present and growing at Minden High School. The faculty and administration have more than once been assaulted by defiant and violent students. Of course, these issues are typically isolated to a small group of students, but they are often disruptive for all students. Due to privacy laws, and the fact that these issues are perpetrated by juveniles, these events aren’t typically reported to the general public.

Details of what transpired throughout the day and into the evening on August 19 are still under investigation, and, again, due to privacy laws, much of what happened will not be publicly disclosed. This, of course, creates a recipe for rumors and conjecture around the community and on social media. Following that day’s events, guns were apparently mentioned via texts and social media. Graphic violence was allegedly mentioned. Misinformation, immaturity, and fear fueled the emotions of children, and were ultimately carried into the stands at the Pit.

With the Minden-Benton Scrimmage game nearing completion that evening, the initial exodus of students was barely noticeable. Allegedly some kids began shouting about guns. Fear began to mount. Confusion set in. More students and many adults frantically emptied from the stands and stampeded toward the exits. Others kneeled down between stadium seats in an effort to take cover while trying to comprehend what was ensuing. As the scene in the stands unfolded, the players and coaches on the field, trying to comprehend the pounding of running feet in the stands, took cover behind the benches and fence. In the chaos, small children could be heard screaming and crying. Parents were searching for their kids. 

No gun shots were ever fired. No evidence of any weapons have been confirmed. Fortunately, no one in the stadium was injured or hurt as the momentary chaos broke out. However, that scene will forever be seared into my mind. As I stood in front of my wife and looked on the field to see my son and his friends ducking for cover, I experienced a profound change. We have all watched the news or read stories concerning school and other public shootings. Though no shooting was occurring, the mere fact that this moment was happening at my Alma Mater with my son involved, made me very, very angry, and incomprehensibly sad.

In that moment I felt a helplessness that I had never encountered, and all I could think or say was, “No!” No. Not in my community. Not with my children. Not at my school. I took this moment, this chaos, this fear, this absolutely ridiculous moment, and I determined right then and there that I would not sit idly by and watch my community be taken hostage by domestic terrorism. Our children will not live in fear and hate. This is not the hometown I know and love, and we cannot tolerate this in our schools and community. We cannot stick our head in the sand of ignorance and ignore the reality that we have a problem. A problem which must be solved with real solutions rather than idle talk.

These problems will not be resolved by school officials or local law enforcement alone. No politician will bring the help we need and deserve. We must stand up as a united community and resolve ourselves to be the change we need. It will take parents, grandparents, students, concerned community members, churches, civic organizations, and public officials to work in unison. We shouldn’t be looking for some imaginary utopia here. We must acknowledge that not all of our neighbors want the same type of community, and that’s okay. If enough of us stand together and put real, practical solutions to work, we can make a difference.

What can you do now?

1. Get to know your civic leaders and those running for upcoming offices in the city and parish. These people will either be a part  of the solution or they need to be replaced. Your involvement and vote matter.

2. Talk with faculty and staff in the schools. These are your neighbors, and they are teaching your younger neighbors. It’s important to know them, and show them appreciation.

3. Attend school events such as sporting events or other school-sponsored public events. Follow the Minden High School page on Facebook. They share a ton!

4. Attend City Council and School Board meetings, or at least watch them on live stream. Being informed is a great way to help catalyze change.

5. Volunteer. Ask around and watch for opportunities to volunteer. There are plenty of opportunities if you’re watching.

6. Join our new Facebook Group: “Our Minden” and use the #hashtag  #ourminden for sharing opportunities and ideas for getting the City of Minden and our schools the help they need.

Multiple groups of parents and concerned citizens have already begun to mobilize, discuss, and share ideas. Though we are many, we can be one. This is our community. This is #ourminden.

Jeff Rhodes lives in Minden.

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