Oct. 1, 2013 — The first time I visited Herlong High School it was a dark and stormy night during basketball season. I was new to Lassen County and even newer still to my role as the Lassen County Times’ sports editor. I punched the directions into the GPS app on my phone and followed the voice of Google for 45 minutes down dark country roads and a seemingly endless highway until I got to the turnoff for Herlong. As I made my way through the town and Google told me I was approaching my destination, I have to admit, I was freaked out. It was dark, didn’t look much like a town, and most of what I could make out through my headlights were cracked sidewalks and boarded up windows. I reached to my left and jabbed at the button that reassured me my car doors were locked as I wracked my brain to remember if I had actually told anyone where I was going in case I never returned, which seemed like a distinct possibility.
I admit, all of what was going on in my mind was pretty dramatic, but if you know me, and furthermore, know what it’s like to be a young woman making your way through dark, unfamiliar streets alone, I’m hoping you will lend me a shred of your understanding.
When I finally made my way to the Herlong High School gym that night and stepped out of the darkness into the light of the basketball court, all my initial judgments about my surroundings began to change.
It’s now been almost a year since my first trip to Herlong High School to cover a sporting event, and since then, I have had the honor of meeting, working with and getting to know the students, staff and athletes who call Herlong High School their home.
Now whenever Herlong is mentioned I can’t help but gush, “I love Herlong,” which usually leads people to stare at me with wide, skeptical eyes before hitting me with a confused and demanding, “Why?” And I am always happy to explain.
I love Herlong, more specifically Herlong High School, because of its people. Of all the sporting events I cover and all the schools I go to, the staff at Herlong High has never once ceased to greet me with a smile, professionalism and overwhelming kindness — and I’m not special; I’ve witnessed them extend this hospitality to everyone they encounter.
Since that first basketball game, Herlong’s athletic director and vice principal, Tom Jones, has never not said, “Thank you for coming,” when he sees me at a game.
Herlong volleyball and girls’ basketball coach Penny Thiels always makes it a point to say hi and chat with me, even when I’m not covering one of her sports. Also, I’m pretty sure the woman doesn’t sleep because she spends every minute of every day giving back to her community and the kids she devotes her time to coaching.
Mrs. Erwin, the home economics teacher, always greets me at the door of the gym with a welcoming smile as she collects admission during games.
The passion, devotion and spirit of the students and staff at Herlong High are continually amazing me. It really hit me last Saturday at Herlong’s home football game against Princeton High School. I looked around and saw Sean Vasquez, a parent volunteer who also drives vans for Herlong High and works the scoreboard at the volleyball games, was announcing. Parents and volunteers came down from the stands to act as the chain gang. Members of the Lady Vikes volleyball team scurried back and forth on the sidelines to help the coach keep stats. When the referees needed a ball boy, superintendent and principal Bryan Young stepped right in and spent the rest of the game running back and forth, catching and throwing the ball for the refs. Students showed up with brightly painted signs and stood side-by-side with Penny Thiels who cheered from the sidelines with her family. And, as always, Tom Jones smiled at me and said, “Thank you for coming.”
These are the unsung heroes of Herlong High School. They are people who dedicate their days, nights, weekends — their lives — to making sure the students in Herlong have an outstanding educational experience. They don’t believe in the phrase, “That’s not my job,” and they prove it by doing each and every job that needs to be done to help the students of Herlong. They don’t hesitate to welcome a nervous stranger who enters their gym on a cold, rainy night with a notepad and a camera and make her feel at home. These people are the reason I can genuinely and unabashedly say I love Herlong High School.
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