Valparaiso is a community of some 30,000 people and some change. It’s a mid-size city in Indiana, but it’s got a small town feel when it comes to the connections made here. Everyone knows each other, they talk about Valparaiso with a certain pride you don’t find in other communities, and among the thousands of attributes people here use to describe themselves with (short, tall, banker, receptionist, etc.) there’s one ubiquitous description that bonds this city together:
I am a Viking.
The Viking is more than a mascot for a school, it’s a beacon of pride for a community. No matter how old you get, or where you end up in this world, if you grew up in Valparaiso and wore the green and white, then you are a Viking for life.
But for a brief moment in time each fall, between the dusty white chalk and the hypnotizing hum of the lights, Viking Nation is divided into two factions for one game of football between Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson Middle Schools.
It’s during these four small quarters of this one big game where childhood friends vie for bragging rights for the rest of the school year; where the pride of wearing the TJMS or BFMS jersey and being the best in your community takes precedence over all for a few, fleeting, football moments.
“There is a tradition of Ben Franklin vs. Thomas Jefferson,” said one of the coaches for TJMS, Kevin Kosek, when asked about the competitiveness of the game. “There is a pride on both sidelines that we want to put our best effort out there on the field, and hopefully that effort turns into a win for our team.”
“These kids at both schools play different sports together all year,” added Jenny Lemmon, whose son Blake is the Quarterback for TJMS. “They do all sorts of different things together as friends, and Blake talks about this game for weeks before.”
“He wants to beat his friends, in a good way.”
For four quarters these kids play their hearts out, playing for school and team pride; playing for BFMS and TJMS.
And then the final whistle blows, and all is forgotten. There is no school rivalry any more. And as much as these kids were briefly divided wanting to win the game for TJMS or BFMS, they become even more united as VHS Vikings, playing for each other, their city, and the Viking name.
One team. One school. One community.
“When the game is all over, VHS Football Coach Dave Coyle brings both teams together at the 50-yard line,” added Kosek, “and he unites the kids as members of the incoming Freshman class. It’s a very moving and special ceremony that means a lot to our team.”
“It’s the last time all these Vikings will be playing against each other,” Coach Coyle said about this special game. “It’s just exciting to be sitting there at our high school watching these future Vikings play.”
All in an instant these temporary rivals and lifelong friends become part of this special community we call Valparaiso. Twenty years from now, many of these kids will forget the final tally on the scoreboard, or who scored which touchdown. But twenty years from now one memory will never fade. Twenty years from now, this game will be the day these kids will always remember as they day they could proudly say:
I am a Viking.
Relive photos from previous year's games: