Coach Lee’s Legacy Memorialized in Press Box, Not Flag

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Coach Lee gave a rousing acceptance speech at the Press Box ceremony.

Matt Brownsword

Coach Lee gave a rousing acceptance speech at the Press Box ceremony.
Coach Lee gave a rousing acceptance speech at the Press Box ceremony.

“Even if the Press Box was not being built in my father’s name, his legacy lives on in Walpole Football and the whole community.”

Throughout the ceremony in which the new Press Box was officially dedicated and named after Walpole’s most famous football coach, John Lee, the speeches were littered with the lessons of Coach Lee’s tenure. Hard work, dedication, preparation, talent, and —most of all — school pride were all mentioned as the foundations for any Coach Lee football team. His son told the story of how the kids on the team would never get hours because of the respect and pride they had for their school; Coach Lee himself talked about a ritual in which every single sophomore would run down the field, through a makeshift tunnel of seniors and juniors, screaming “My name is [John Smith] and I’m so proud to be a Walpole Rebel!”

School Pride was not just part of a Coach Lee team among some people; it was essential for every player to have it, without it, Coach Lee would not have had the kind of success that he enjoyed, an astounding 200 career victories. In his day, the town would go to the field, “which [he] could remember as just dirt,” and cheer on General Lee’s army as they took on rivals Norwood, Natick, etc.

Not a lot has changed since the esteemed Coach Lee left: the hard work and dedication is still tangible every day after school on Turco field, the planning is still there in the Health Room in the days leading up to games, the talent is still evident on the stats sheets. The rivalries are still the same; Friday nights are still all about the war going down between the Rebels and whatever team is unfortunate enough to take the field on the opposite side.

And the Confederate flag, the symbol of the Rebels and General Lee’s army, still hangs in the treetops.

“I don’t really have an opinion about it,” said Coach Lee. “It was just something that we did.”

Something that everyone did — the students, the athletes, the fans, the parents, and the coaches embraced the Confederate flag and jargon to symbolize the Rebels. But what they were doing, and what they always did, was embody the qualities that made a team come together and have success — love; love of community; brotherly love; love of school; love of the Rebels. The Confederate flag represented everything about those intangible characteristics of a perennial state championship contender, and continue to do the same today.

But as we remember Coach Lee and all that he did for the Walpole Football program, is the Confederate Flag what we should put on our shirts, our phone cases, our belts? Is the Confederate Flag what we should remember Coach Lee for?

Coach Lee stood for everything that comes with being a Walpolian in any sport — or any venture for that matter: hard work, determination,  a will to win, and school pride. And to not only accept but embrace a symbol that — let’s be honest — symbolizes hatred, oppression, and discrimination, in this day, the community is doing it wrong.

Yes, the young student athletes that take the field every day and look up at that Confederate Flag with a sense of pride are not supporting those other disgusting qualities of it. But for every other kid that walks into the fortress of Turco field, that Flag does not stand for anything but discrimination and hate. So why do we have to look up at the Confederate Flag just to find some school pride?

Look at the quote from Coach Lee’s son above: “Even if the Press Box was not being built in my father’s name, his legacy lives on in Walpole Football and the whole community.” Can we not replace the Confederate Flag with the Press Box? If we take away the Confederate Flag, Coach Lee’s teachings still live on the Walpole Football Field every Fall day after school and under the Friday night lights. The lineman still attack their blocks with the same kind of ferocity, the cornerbacks still climb the ladder to make crucial interceptions, the quarterbacks still throw tight spirals down to streaking wide receivers.

And everyone who puts that orange helmet on, with the “Rebels” decal displayed across both sides, still takes pride in their school. They still love the brothers that they play alongside. When they look at the blue W in the middle of the field, we all get a sense of school pride.

Hopefully, the players can all look at the new John E. Lee Press box and remember the teachings of Coach Lee as they take on whatever team is on the other side of that field. They can see the big grass W in front of the Press Box and feel that school pride that so symbolized the success of the Coach Lee era football teams, year in and year out, and forget about that other symbol in the opposite corner of the field.