The luminance of the Red Bandanna football game was palpable. The scene swelled with more than just the brilliance of the new field lights, but with something much more powerful: school spirit unlike any our community has seen before. The resounding student opinion is that this game, though not a win in the books, was a triumph for our school identity. I had the privilege to take part in the weekend’s events on a different level, reporting for both The Patriot and the school’s film crew.
Mendham’s second annual Red Bandanna football game is at its heart a touching tribute to Welles Crowther, a 9/11 hero whose spirit has been adopted here at Mendham. An aspiring New York City firefighter and lifelong volunteer, Welles immediately stepped in on that infamous day and saved lives as the towers burned. His great sacrifice will not be forgotten in the hearts of the many he saved, and thanks to the fact that he was wearing his signature red bandanna that day, his identity and impact have been recognized globally.
Last year, we were graced’ with the warm presence of Alison Crowther, Welles’ mother, as she spoke to the Class of 2018. This year, we were especially honored to speak with both Alison and her husband, Jeff. The Class of 2019 was taken by Alison’s poise and courage as a grieving mother, but what truly ignited Welles’ spirit in us was Jeff’s words. As he is not normally the public speaker of the pair, his contributions were exceptionally raw and in turn, profoundly insightful. One such sentiment was a quote he carries with him daily: “grief is the price of love.” Truly, loving and losing their son seems an insurmountable emotion, but it remains one that humanizes the unbelievable story of a man so heroic.
Following the Crowthers’ assembly was our fall pep rally, which became another venue to appreciate Welles’ legacy. Senior Carsyn Fessenden was one of the student speakers who felt privileged to have the platform to speak not only to the Crowthers but to the entire, impassioned student body. “I knew that everybody, especially the seniors, really connected and were impacted by The Red Bandanna,” Fessenden discussed following the event. “To be able to have that moment of reflection at the pep rally was a really incredible moment.”
Perhaps the most striking element of the Red Bandanna was that its spirit was so captured during the football game. Never before has Mendham so resembled a movie. From the field, the entire crowd seemed to pulsate and cheer to the same rhythm, the same heartbeat. The lens of my camera could barely keep up with the motion, the sensory excitement that was utterly contagious between the team and the audience.
The excitement for the game was especially heightened as it was also our annual Homecoming football game. Homecoming King Brennan Skirzenski was especially keen on the liveliness: “It gives me pride to know that I am a part of a school where the student section is filled to capacity and where parents and other members of the community come out to support our athletes, band members, and coaches.”
This game was special. It possessed something so authentic, visibly connecting the community under the lights of our home. Of course, so much of this was made possible by teachers who went above and beyond to organize both the event and the message they hoped the community would take out of it. One such organizer, Mr. Ward, has pioneered the spirit of the Red Bandanna at this school since he incited Mrs. Crowther’s visit last year. In his planning, Mr. Ward found himself enthralled by a colleague’s casual sentiment of “beyond the day,” which became the cornerstone of this year’s celebration. “You can interpret “Beyond the Day” in a litany of ways,” he explained, “and all of them center around the idea of moving forward with Welles’ spirit and moving forward in thinking of 9/11 beyond the day.”
I spent that crisp October night weaving my way through the bleachers, minding the spirit from the field, and capturing the moments I am sure we have all since captured in our memories. What I can attest to is this: the Red Bandanna shines within all of us, within our school, and within our community. From that night forward, we carry on together Beyond the Day.