Dragons in the 'hood

Frank Mullen III/Guest Opinion
Frank Mullen III

Welcome back to school, Green Dragons.

I know that sounds like something the principal should say, but since I live across the street from Aledo High School, I want to thank you for bringing excitement back to my neighborhood.

We've been preparing for your return. The Swimming Pool Road is lined with Aledo-Westmer football signs. My neighbors have replaced their old green and white lights with newer, brighter bulbs and I'm rewiring the front-yard stereo system to blast a new, louder version of "Go You Aledo" on game days. I don't know if I'll survive the competition with the marching band, though; I can hear them rehearsing in the evenings and they've worked up some killer cadences. The team has been hard at work, too; every afternoon I can hear the coaches' whistles on the practice field as the returning players show the new boys exactly what it takes to be a Green Dragon.

All in all, the sights and sounds of the new school year are welcome in this neighborhood.

With one exception: The Roar.

When The Roar screams through the air after school, my heart thumps, and I run across the house to the front window. It's not that I don't recognize The Roar; I've lived here long enough to know the sound of a young driver pushing the accelerator to the floor while pulling out onto the street.

I fear what may happen after the shrieking car or pickup shoots past my house. Because once that ton-and-a-half of steel screams past my house it enters the world of little children.

That's the other great thing about my neighborhood: it's full of youngsters, and every year their numbers seem to double. They're curious cowboys and pint-sized princesses, first-year bicycle riders and ball-throwers, tiny Green Dragons of the future.

And I'm afraid that one will soon become a casualty of a Green Dragon of the present. A few unthinking drivers are endangering innocent young lives. That's not school spirit; it's lethal selfishness.

Sometimes, as you know, a police car is stationed at the intersection by the museum after school. The presence of law enforcement is a great help to the decision-making process. No one, teenager or great-grandfather, spends much time debating whether or not to recklessly speed through residential neighborhoods when cops are watching.

It is when no one is looking over our shoulders that we are tested. This is true on streets after school, in college honor systems, in jobs and in armies. All rely on individual integrity and honesty.

Your high school years carry the opportunity to learn things that are more important than getting top grades in biology or winning a band competition; believe it or not, Mrs. Pirog and Mr. Ruggles know this. Growing up is all about learning self-control and taking responsibility for behavior. Not everyone masters this unwritten curriculum; you can turn to the Courthouse News in this paper and identify plenty of so-called adults who haven't yet learned self-control.

I'm living proof that high school is about a lot more than grades. I flunked more high school algebra courses than I passed. But I can give you the simple numbers on vehicular manslaughter in the State of Illinois: accelerating from zero to sixty miles per hour at five to three in the afternoon through neighborhoods full of children aged two to eleven can end a five-year-old's life, ruin a seventeen-year-old's future and earn you fourteen in lockup, and you'll be about thirty when you get out.

Education doesn't end after high school. Depending on your choices, your next teachers may be professors, drill sergeants or bosses.

Or, if you choose poorly, armed guards.

You guys are the best of western Illinois. You can see why we hope for and expect the best from you.

Help create a neighborhood where the only roar is that of crowd and cannon when the ball sails between the goalposts.

Go You Aledo. Go with pride. Go with responsibility.