Public schools here can lack a sense of place because of the custom for many years to name them after prominent citizens. No one has to ask where to find Brandon High School, though.
Founded almost 100 years ago, its name is the community it represents. Fathers and sons have walked its halls. Mothers and daughters have done the same. The school is an enduring landmark for generations of students.
“Brandon is all about family,” said head boys basketball coach Jamie Turner, BHS class of 2003. “It’s about tradition. It’s about community.”
That’s true in good times, of which there have been plenty.
It is also true in times of sorrow and pain.
Brandon students and faculty confronted that pain Monday, the first day back in class since basketball player Milo Meeks died shortly after he collapsed following a workout.
“The toughest part is trying to move on to tomorrow,” Turner said. “Students still have to go to class. I still have to teach.”
That’s when you need family the most. And in the toughest times, family is what Brandon High does best.
I should give full disclosure here.
My wife works there. My sons are BHS graduates and were athletes there. Some of my friends coach there. I know what this school is about. It has many caring people, like the administrator who let a homeless student move in to her house a few years ago so the student, just weeks from graduation, wouldn’t have to go into foster care.
There is no playbook for something like this, though. How do you teach students to grow up faster than they should have to? High school is not a time to be considering mortality. That’s why Turner brought his team together Sunday night just to talk, grieve and prepare for the questions they would face Monday.
“I told them they had to be leaders,” he said. “We’re together. I told them it’s OK to cry, but they have to be leaders for our school. The school needs us to be strong right now and show everyone we’ll get through this together.”
That togetherness helped get them through Monday, but it wasn’t easy. The normally boisterous hallways were quieter than normal. The office staff fielded many calls from nervous parents. Some students hadn’t heard the news until they arrived at school. Counselors were on hand for anyone who needed to talk.
But students also gathered for an impromptu memorial in front the school, and many wore white T-shirts to honor their fallen classmate. Turner said the school will decide how best to honor Meeks once the basketball season begins, and that raises another point. His teammates will play on, but they will make sure Milo Meeks is always with them.
That’s the Brandon High School that I know. The unthinkable can always happen, but the students, faculty and administrators know they have each other.