Hands fly over hearts when the National Anthem starts to play, but it can be hard to spot the American flag during Falcons sporting events at the Firelands High School gym.
“I’ve been here three years and I don’t even know where it is. It’s a small flag. It’s like a classroom flag that’s hung on the wall,” said junior Alexis Harasty.
That will change this fall.
The Teen Leadership Corps has raised $5,500 to buy a 12-by-18-foot flag that will descend from the gym ceiling.
It will be unfurled in an Aug. 28 ceremony at FHS as the Falcons volleyball team hosts Vermilion in the season opener. The event will be a tribute to the family of Staff Sgt. James Hunter, killed by a bomb on a dusty Afghanistan roadside in 2010.
Hunter was a 2003 graduate of Firelands.
Today he would be 32 years old — not at all a contemporary of the teenagers who raised money for the new flag. But they said Firelands is a community that rallies around its military members and remembers Hunter’s sacrifice.
Harasty, for example, said she plans to enlist in the Navy and feels a connection to Hunter, though she never met him. The flag project made her think about the risks she will take in uniform.
“It made me realize how many students each year we send off, active duty, to the armed forces and how many we manage to bring home,” she said.
Kids found the same sentiment among their classmates, teachers, and alumni. Some donors, approached a second time, happily gave twice to the fundraising effort.
The bulk of donations came from local military service organizations, including the VFW, American Legion, and Disabled American Veterans.
“I found a new appreciation for our veterans by going into their offices or contacting them and saying this is what we’re going to do. They’re thanking us for donating their money, for doing this. That says a lot about their ideals,” said government teacher and Amherst city councilman Joe Miller.
Also a high school basketball official, he’s seen a lot of schools with retractable, ceiling-mounted flags and said sports fans at those venues tend to participate more in the Nation Anthem.
“There’s a little more respect and reverence at the schools that have those flags,” he said.
With the help of athletic director Ty Stillman, Miller recruited the Corps teens to fundraise.
Among the volunteers is Abigail Giffords, a politically-active student who said fighting apathy and kindling patriotism are important goals. She is not joking when she says there’s a plan to run for president of the United States one day.
“There’s always more room for patriotism. In a smaller school sometimes, the focus will get clouded. There’s always time to celebrate our nation,” Giffords said.
The Teen Leadership Corps has also mentored children at Firelands Elementary and South Amherst Middle School, held a blood drive, and collected clothes for children in need. Its aim, Miller said, is to serve and inspire the world.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.