The human spirit is an amazing thing.
There are few things as indomitable as that seed that makes us who we are.
I was told early on that the phoenix, the bird, was a character of mythology and later a character from the Harry Potter novels.
Unicorns and griffins and giant, building-climbing apes I could buy as being creatures of myth. Bigfoot? Probably a myth. Washington State winning a national college football championship? Definitely a myth.
But six decades and counting later, I am more convinced than ever that the phoenix is alive and well and living in the world.
We just call it the “human spirit.”
It’s what allows us to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and start over after being knocked down and counted out. It’s what defined the response to September 11 and to Hurricanes Katrina, Harvey, Maria, Camille or Floyd or any of the countless others. It’s what rallied us from Pearl Harbor and Columbine and Sandy Hook. It’s what brought us together after the assassinations of JFK, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy.
It’s what brought the world back from two world wars and the Holocaust and keeps it coming back in the face of unspeakable horrors in all corners of the globe.
It’s a reflex. It’s equal parts muscle memory and the manifestation of human dignity writ large. Events knock us down and stand over us, taunting us and telling us to give up and stay down.
And to paraphrase Maya Angelou, Still We Rise.
I hold Freeman High School in a favored corner of my heart. It reminds me of the small-town schools where I grew up before my family moved to Spokane during my sophomore year of high school.
Kids at Freeman are tight-knit and they hang together. It has a significantly higher-than-average number of three-sport athletes than most schools because kids there show support for their friends by turning out for sports to support their friends. Loyalty to the school, the community and to their friends doesn’t just run deep – it’s foundational.
To see that community wracked by the unthinkable, a school shooting that left one classmate dead and another in police custody, shook that community to the core. They weren’t just knocked down by it. They were hit with a haymaker from out of the blue.
Unless you have been felled by similar circumstance, you cannot fully appreciate just how powerful that simple act of getting back up can be. There is a brief moment of stunned numbness where the absurdity of the act makes absolutely no sense and your mind refuses to accept it as real. And then it’s followed by a grief that stabs all the way to the center of your being.
But to no one’s surprise, the school and the community that had been knocked down was never knocked out. It picked itself up and helped friends and neighbors do the same. They rallied to one another, supported one another all the more and they moved forward.
It’s a stunning act of courage. And at the same time, it’s a fairly ordinary act of adolescence.
In those early days in September, when everyone’s legs were wobbly from shock and horror at what had happened in their midst, they propped each other up. At first, they stood together. And then they started to move on. Together.
They quickly moved to normalize their year. The Friday night football game with Medical Lake proved to be cathartic for them, their families and the communities.
By the time fall began to turn to winter, the football team had reached the state playoffs and the volleyball team, which had two of its teammates wounded in the shooting, reached the state tournament and returned with a trophy for an eighth-place finish.
Boys basketball returned to the state championship game for the third straight year and came home with a third straight second-place trophy. The wrestling team came home with a third-place trophy.
And then there was the baseball team.
Freeman baseball has been stellar for a good long while. For three straight years the Scotties had played in the state semifinals. They lost all three times and returned home with two third-place trophies and a fourth. The year before that they had lost a 1-0 decision to eventual state champion Naches Valley in the first round.
The senior class that sparked that four-year run graduated, and the team’s top pitcher, McKabe Cottrell, is playing baseball for Gonzaga.
Still, the Scotties returned to the state semis for the fourth straight time this year.
But this year the team did more than knock on the door of the state finals. They kicked the door in with a 13-1 win over Cedar Park Christian.
And then they pounded King’s Way Christian, 6-2, to win the school’s first state baseball championship.
Michael Coumont, who has been a key player for the Scotties in three straight state basketball championship games, made certain that his teammates came out on top in his final title game appearance, pitching the team past the defending state champs.
Freeman backed its starter with slick fielding, turning double plays in each of the first two innings, and Desmond Parisotto killed a sixth-inning rally by throwing a runner out at the plate to end the inning.
The catcher on the other end of that play? Konner Freudlander – who plays two sports and overlays that with being the president of both the ASB and the FFA. In his spare time he’s recently learned that he has an appointment to United States Military Academy at West Point.
We may never know just how difficult it has been for Freeman students to carry on every day since their adolescence was shattered by gunshots. When you’re concentrating on simply putting one foot in front of the other, it’s difficult to grasp just how far you’ve traveled.
Athletic excellence has always been a hallmark of Freeman High School, in all sports.
That they not only returned to that level in such a trying year as the 2017-18 school year, but have added to their own legend with its first state baseball championship, is an amazing accomplishment.
And it’s what we’ve come to expect from the Scotties.
It’s what it means to be Freeman Strong.