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Raising kids to be leaders in rural communities starts with the little things, such as supporting each other no matter the rivalry.

Mindy Ward, Editor, Missouri Ruralist

February 10, 2023

2 Min Read
Louisiana Bulldogs and Clopton Hawks cheerleaders gather before basketball game at Clopton High School to pray
STANDING TOGETHER: Louisiana Bulldogs and Clopton Hawks cheerleaders gather before a basketball game at Clopton High School to pray over the contest — asking for protection for all involved. Mindy Ward

They were wearing different uniforms from different towns, yet they were standing in the lobby united. It wasn’t because of an injury or tragedy. It was apparently a typical moment before a high school basketball game in a small town.

My winter is spent on a bleacher in a basketball gym somewhere in northeastern Missouri watching my nieces and nephews compete. I go and pick my seat about 20 minutes before the game and wait. But this time, I ventured out and ran on a scene that made me stop.

There in the lobby were the Louisiana Bulldogs and Clopton Hawks cheerleaders together, hand-in-hand, supporting one another, the athletes and their schools.

Now, anyone who attends a sporting match knows small-town rivalries are not only revered, but also often the most heated contest in the county. The gym is packed from top to bottom on both sides, each donning their own school colors. This matchup can bring out the best in players and the worst in spectators.

Cheerleaders are called on to encourage a team and stir up support from fans. They bring their school’s spirit to the game. And apparently, this group of young women was dedicated to the entire spirit of small towns.

They decided to put all that rivalry aside and stand together, lifting up those athletes in the contest, those in attendance and themselves. And it got to me.

I thought of their willingness to stand boldly as people passed by. What courage. What resolve to be the ones in the gym who say, no matter the outcome, we will remain small-town strong, we will continue to support one another.

I thought of their schools and how they are raising leaders for our rural communities. Say what you will, but I come from a family of teachers and coaches. They invest time in their students.

Trust me, the money they receive for coaching a sport does not cover the cost of nights away from their own families. I’ve seen it firsthand. They do it to make a difference in the lives of young people and in their own small town.

I thought of the parents and how they are instilling values in their daughters. Well done. Trust me there are moments you wonder — is this even sinking in? I’m here to tell you and show you, yes, it is. Keep “preaching” at your kids. It takes that faith, those values, to sustain our rural communities.

So, to those small-town schools and parents, thank you. You see, just when you think no one is watching, your kids reflect the true heart of rural America — unified, supportive and steadfast — no matter our differences.

To our rural youth, keep it up. We see you. We stand with you. We are proud of you.

About the Author(s)

Mindy Ward

Editor, Missouri Ruralist

Mindy resides on a small farm just outside of Holstein, Mo, about 80 miles southwest of St. Louis.

After graduating from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural journalism, she worked briefly at a public relations firm in Kansas City. Her husband’s career led the couple north to Minnesota.

There, she reported on large-scale production of corn, soybeans, sugar beets, and dairy, as well as, biofuels for The Land. After 10 years, the couple returned to Missouri and she began covering agriculture in the Show-Me State.

“In all my 15 years of writing about agriculture, I have found some of the most progressive thinkers are farmers,” she says. “They are constantly searching for ways to do more with less, improve their land and leave their legacy to the next generation.”

Mindy and her husband, Stacy, together with their daughters, Elisa and Cassidy, operate Showtime Farms in southern Warren County. The family spends a great deal of time caring for and showing Dorset, Oxford and crossbred sheep.

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