Back in the day, student athletes had fewer choices because small schools out here only offered basketball, football, track, and girls volleyball. Larger towns like Alliance had wrestling, but where I came from we hardly heard of it. My high school in Seneca played a lot of basketball in places like Ashby, Bingham, Arthur, Brewster, and Westerville, but pep club girls never got to go to those games. Our parents said it would keep us out too late, so we had to be content with cheering closer to home at Thedford, Dunning, Halsey, and Mullen. Occasionally, we were allowed to travel as far as Hyannis. One year, Seneca only had 5 boys in high school but they just played short one man when someone fouled out. Volleyball didn’t get much road time; because not all the schools offered a girl’s sport. In spite of ourselves, we had huge fun because nobody told us we ought to expect any different.
My family didn’t get to Alliance but once a year or so, but it seemed to me almost as busy as when we visited my Omaha relatives. There was little need to come to a large town because we could buy most of what we needed close to home. Small town stores even stayed open late one night a week so parents could send the kids to a movie while they shopped. What we couldn’t buy in the hometown we ordered from Sears Roebuck or Montgomery Ward, but only after ascertaining whether the item was available down on Main Street.
Yes, that all happened a long time ago, and those little communities are mostly ghost towns now. Schools consolidated, and the services we enjoyed are gone. Since stores like K-Mart and Shopko left Alliance, it’s starting to feel like when Seneca lost the roundhouse and railroad crew changes, so unemployment became common. The movie theater went next; then the high school, and the elementary school went away later. The drugstore, lumber yard, and three grocery stores closed. The post office is now only open a couple of hours a day and mail is sorted elsewhere. You don’t see people gathering on a street corner just to chat anymore, nor many cars at the one church on Sunday, (there used to be three churches) and I can’t tell you when the last Saturday night dance happened.
Alliance doesn’t have to follow that trend. All it takes to stay alive is a few creative and determined folks who have faith in the home town. People like Greg and Lisa Carter, who believe in you enough to relocate and expand their hardware store. Get in there, if you haven’t yet, it’s great! People like you and the Carters can help us survive. I’m talking especially to those of you who champion Alliance as “The Best Home Town in America,” and then run to Scottsbluff, Fort Collins, or Rapid City to shop. Who routinely order items from Amazon, instead of asking if a local business can order what’s not locally available.
It’s inevitable that the face of rural America will change, but innovative folks will survive. The hamlet of Cody has a slogan too. “A Town Too Tough to Die.” There are several thriving small businesses. The high school is still open, and fields some pretty tough teams. Local students built, and operate, the grocery store.
Black Friday is approaching. If you must shop till you drop, I challenge you to put your money where your mouth is. Stay in the home town, save some gas, save some miles and some energy. Somebody might like it.