High school football has begun and most high schools throughout Iowa will be celebrating Homecoming. Traditionally, before kickoff or during halftime, every high school will crown their King and Queen. We cheer, we celebrate, and that Saturday after the game will be the much anticipated High School dance.
Sadly, this September also will mark the 15th anniversary of the single most deadliest attack by terrorists on American soil, where approximately 3,000 civilians where killed and hundreds more injured. Among those killed were over 400 firefighters, police officers and emergency medical personnel.
As our country began to heal from that attack, Cedar Rapids Prairie (College Community School District) wanted to do something special for their own first responders. How could they honor and remember those who had sacrificed so much, but also pay tribute, and give thanks to firefighters, law enforcement officers and paramedics who protect the Prairie families in and around our Community?
They dedicate their homecoming football game to them.
Each year since 9/11, Prairie High School has asked their community fire departments, who are mostly volunteers, to present the colors of our nation’s flag as they dedicate this football game to them. Presenting the colors are approximately 30 firefighters representing the townships of Ely, Fairfax, Swisher and Walford, along with Linn County Ambulance, and if available, the Cedar Rapids Fire Department, and our local law enforcement. They all march together as one, to the middle of the field, standing tall and proud, wearing their turnout gear, fire helmets, and their uniforms, as they carry our nation’s flag in front of as many as 6,000 spectators.
They salute as the school band plays the Star Spangled Banner, after which there is a fireworks show — which is short but spectacular, all the same. Just as they walked onto the football field as one, they walk off together, an undeniable brotherhood which not one thing on this earth can break.
Prairie also has brought back a long time tradition of “Burning of the P.” A 15 foot high letter ‘P’, constructed of cloth, held together by a screen mesh, is set ablaze. As the ‘P’ begins to settle into an orange glow, a recording of the Prairie Alum song is sung, bringing tears to some of their longtime staff and classmates of days gone by. Prairie also pays tribute to our military, and our veterans, making sure we never forget those who have served protecting our freedom, and for some, paid the ultimate sacrifice so we can remain a free nation.
One Friday night out of the year — Sept 23 this year — Prairie High School reminds us that some things are bigger than any one of us or any one event. We hear words over the loudspeaker of sacrifice, honor, courage, and commitment; words that define our first responders, and a code by which they live. On this night, and every night, wherever we might live, we have a sense of peace; that we are safe. And will remain safe as long as we have dedicated men and women like we do today, regardless of the uniform they wear, protecting us from harm, protecting our property, and saving lives, knowing they may be asked to give their own life in doing so.
We as a community, and as a country, could not ask for anything more, or be more grateful.
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Sit back and enjoy the game. It’s Iowa High School football at its best. It’s also Prairie’s Homecoming.
• Ron Harrelson is a former Commander and 33 year veteran of The Eastern Iowa Airport Public Safety Department and Ely Firefighter; now employed as a Resource Manager at Prairie High School. Comments: Ronharrelson@crprairie.org