Always Proud of My Home Among the Hills

Yesterday, Jeremy and I went on a wild ride without ever leaving out living room. We cheered on our West Virginia Mountaineer football team as they took on the #4 ranked Baylor Bears. Many people were calling for a Baylor victory in Morgantown, and, to be honest, our expectations weren't high.

But, the Mountaineers prevailed in an emotionally exhausting game. I can only imagine what it was like inside of Milan Puskar Stadium. I know the energy that exists there and how, when that largest city in the state of West Virginia is cheering in unison, emotions transcend the moment and it is easy to get swept away. I know, for two Mountaineers in Tarheel country, we were beyond excited in our transplanted Mountaineer abode.

When time expired and the 'Eers were victorious, the celebration began. If you know anything about WVU and Morgantown, you know they love their celebrations. It starts with the post-game John Denver sing along, and move to the houses, apartments and other locations dotting the outskits of the downtown campus.

Jeremy and I joked about seeing the smoke from the burning couches as we went out for the evening. It was a lighthearted comment, but I knew that when I awoke this morning, I would see stories of the out of control celebrations in Morgantown. The couch burning started when I was a student there, and I do not understand it any more today than I did fifteen years ago.

I don't know why my fellow Mountaineers want to celebrate by setting things on fire, flipping cars on their tops, or generally acting as though they are part of a riot. I don't understand how the Mountaineer family goes from the love, brotherhood and joy of a post-game rendition of "Country Roads" to complete and utter chaos in such a short time.

But, I always know what they outcome will be. There will be group of people who go too far, who make the headlines and who ruin the image of what the Mountaineers are. Occasionally, the national news and ESPN pick up the stories and lament the state of collegiate celebrations in Morgantown. Sometimes, these riotous celebrants are Mountaineers who have recently converted (as in, they are not Mountaineers by birth, like Jeremy and I both are.) Sometimes, these folks aren't even students or alumni of the university. Yet, the antics these people take part in build the reputation of crazed fan-dom that others chastise throughout the country. Though I know it is likely to happen, I am always disappointed when it comes to pass.

As a born and raised Mountaineer, I'm well acquainted with my West Virginia trivia. Everyone knows the motto of the "Mountain State" is "Montani Semper Lebri"... "Mountaineers are Always Free."  I think these new "coverts misinterpret this freedom as a penchant for chaos.

We, as West Virginians, take pride in this notion of independence and freedom, never hanging our head when people make jokes about our home state. We know we come from heartier stock than that, more resilient people who have long been able to survive whatever hard conditions fate and Mother Nature threw their way. Of course we are mocked because, unless you are a Mountaineer, you can't understand it. It's in the air, it's in the rivers and streams, it grows wild on the sides of the mountains and it run through out veins. True Mountaineer pride runs deep and isn't for sale. It doesn't require the burning of couches or rioting in the streets. True Mountaineer pride is humble and hard-working; it respects our history and promotes our future. It's a life-long love that is passed from generation to generation, respectful of the traditions of those who have come before us.

I'm certain I will endure a litany of questions from friends and colleagues who will want to know why anyone would be proud to be a Mountaineer with the way some "fans" behaved after Saturday's win.

It's an easy response for me.

I come from a tradition of excellence, borne not of luck, but of sheer will and determination. I understand, as my predecessors did, that freedom isn't free, and that making one's way in this world often comes at a high price. I come from people who are proud of their heritage, but who don't need splashy displays to show it. I was raised knowing that being a Mountaineer means you will endure some heartaches and some hardships, but it will make the successes sweeter for it.

Sure, it's the message on the signs when you come into the state, letting you know you in "Almost Heaven." But, when you see a sunrise at Cooper's Rock or a sunset on the Monongahela River, you might suspect it's the real thing.

No, I don't need lessons on how to be a proper fan. Mountaineers, TRUE Mountaineers know how to celebrate our school and our state. Not from someone else from another state, and not from another school in the state.

Yes, I am always proud to be a Mountaineer, a TRUE Mountaineer. A blue-and-gold-bleeding, West Virginia Mountaineer. Now, and forever, Montani Semper Lebri.

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