What Makes Ronnie Roll: The Power Of Small-Town Traditions

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

We all know that Athens-Limestone County is growing, hopefully like a garden and not a weed. Huntsville was recently voted the best place in the nation to live, and that the ongoing challenge for Athens City Hall is to find a way to keep the small-town feel of Athens while we become a “not-so-small town.” One of the ways that we have done that is through the annual pep rally that showcases the rivalry between Athens High School and East Limestone High School. Most years, that first pep rally and game happen on the Friday that falls mid-month in August, and this year it was Thursday the 18th.

Mayor Ronnie told me a story that illustrates that something as traditional as apple pie along with the kickoff of the fall high school football season has the power to change the direction of a family’s life, at least as it pertains to where they decide to live. The pep rally fills the Courthouse Square, windows get decorated, the cheerleaders, bands, football teams and more are part of it, and it’s “big doins’.” Mayor Ronnie was standing on the sidewalk during one such rally and was approached by a complete stranger who wanted to know what was going on. He explained to her what I just described, and she was incredulous. She said, “You mean, the town comes out for it like this? You actually do that? Who still does that?” “Yes, ma’am, we have been doing this for years,” replied the mayor. Her answer? “Then, we’re moving here!”

We sat in the mayor’s office and talked about how hungry people are for community and relationships. We celebrated the fact that after any game, kids can go to Kreme Delite, Village Pizza, Lucia’s, Terra Nova’s and hopefully other places soon, so that they can celebrate their wins or get through their losses. And, for other crowds, there are traditions like Fridays after Five, Singing on the Square, and more, depending on the season. In many towns, attending events at night is just not an option these days.

Mayor Ronnie switched gears a bit and talked about an event he had attended with his grandson, Quinton. NBA legend Bill Walton had spoken at the mayor’s alma mater, UNA, and discussed the power of decisions. Back in the day, Bill Walton was known to be kind of “out there,” and as a UCLA Bruin under the care of Coach John Wooden had decided he wanted to look a bit more like a hippie and fit in with his fellow college mates. Wooden had a pretty strict dress code, and while he patiently listened to Bill’s pitch, John calmly said, “Bill, you have the right to do that. And, we shall sure miss you.” Walton’s message? Decisions ALWAYS have consequences. What if Wooden had caved or Walton had bolted? Bill would not have gone on to be MVP and win a ton of titles. He also might not have developed the strength and discipline that it takes in order to deal with a myriad of physical challenges.

Speaking of challenges, the mayor looked at me as he always does this time of year when he actually announces with a smile that it is budget time…more on that next Ronnie. And I rolled my eyes as I always do, because being jazzed about budgets just does not compute, pardon the pun. So we prayed, as we always do, and then it was time for Ronnie to roll.

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner