Back in December, I went back to my high school hometown of Bellevue, Nebraska for the first time in 23 years. I didn't write about it until now because I was uh.....on hiatus with my blog. Anyway, I went and I went with my travel buddy, my eight year old son Trey. I always mention how I played basketball at Bellevue West (T-Birds!) and I even watch the T-Birds bball team online whenever they stream the game. For the past three years, the TBirds have featured Chucky Hepburn, arguably the best player in BW history (while at the school). I played bball with his dad and I kept telling myself that I would go back and check out a game one day and figured that I might as well go while the school has the best player of all time on the roster. So I booked a trip for Trey and I to ole Nebraska and we were both super excited. I was no only excited to watch the bball team play, I was also excited to go back to see what Bellevue looked like after all these years. Social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram has made the world a lot smaller so I kinda knew that Bellevue had grown a bit, but I wanted to see it with my own eyes. My high school career was a little bit of a mixed bag for me. On the one hand, I had a great time and met some great people and just had fun with it. But on the other hand, it was a little hard for me. I moved there in the 9th grade, so I wasn't a born and bred 'Nebraskan'. Don't get me wrong, I had my crew of friends (more on that in a second) but overall, I don't think that I was ever looked at as part of the culture of Bellevue and Bellevue West like some of the people who had been there most of their lives.
I always kinda joke to people that I was a nerd at BW, but I didn't really think I was. I hung with very popular people and I played bball and ran track so I thought I had a little clout. I had a few girls that I 'went with' but nothing like my friends had. I was an average student and I didn't get into any trouble. I basically was an extra in a movie about a high school. On social media, I do have a lot of my classmates from BW as friends and followers but overall I was a background player. I mention all of that to start off talking about the trip. Unlike our previous trip to NYC, our trip was pretty uneventful until Trey and I got to Nebraska at around 11 at night. AS SOON AS we walked into the terminal at the airport....it was SUPER cold! Man, I'm not entirely sure how I ever got used to that. Even Trey was like 'Daddy?.....its COLD!' I've lived in Colorado, Germany, and NYC but NONE of them have that frost in the air like good ole Nebraska. Wow. We make it back to the hotel and get to bed and Trey slept most of the night all the way under the covers.
I had reached out to Principal Rohlfs to see a) if he remembered me (he said he did....I'm not sure he did....lol) b) could I take a tour of the school. I arranged to tour the school on Friday. We flew in on Wednesday night, so we had a whole Thursday to 'waste'. I took Trey to my old house when I lived in Bellevue. That pic at the top of the article was me standing in front of it. Everything seemed like a smaller version of Bellevue this go round. The 'huge' field that I used to cut across to check out my man Dan was literally maybe 4 or 5 steps. LOL. Trey peppered me with a bunch of questions. Daddy who lived there? Did you walk everywhere? Where does the city bus stop (such a city kid)? We then went over to my beloved Youth Center (which was closed) and has completely changed from the days where me and my friends used to spend all of our time. It truly looks like a youth center now as opposed to a building with a (comically small) bball gym and a room with a huge TV. Trey and I saw people looking back at us when we peeped in but I guess the sight of a big guy with a beard wasn't exactly what they were expected to see in the morning for them to open the door for us. For the rest of the day, we just kinda drove around Bellevue and looked at a few places that I used to hang out like Galvin Road (Trey was unimpressed) and checking out old newspaper articles from the Bellevue Leader at the Bellevue Library. We ended the night hanging with one of my oldest, best friends from Bellevue and her two sons. We went to Stella's and had burgers that were really good. So good, that Trey wanted to go back the next night.
I was super excited about Friday, we would get to see the new Star Wars in the morning, tour the school in the afternoon, and then check out Chucky and the TBirds that night. Only......nothing happened as planned. The Star Wars movie was....eh. I paid for the 'real deal' seats and paid over $40 of stuff like Popcorn and candy. We then got to go Bellevue West to take the tour and it was.....interesting/humbling. When I walked in, Principal Rohlfs was already standing in the office and said 'John! Welcome back!' We talked for maybe 30 seconds before the legendary basketball coach, Coach Woodard, came over and introduced himself. 'Hey John, nice to meet you, I've heard good things about you.' I told him I was looking forward to seeing Chucky and the team take on the defending state champs, Omaha South. Coach Woodard moved a little closer to me and spoke softer and said 'Well....Chucky isn't playing tonight. He caught an elbow in practice and got a slight concussion' I gave him a look and he just nodded and said 'Will be a tough game tonight....wish we could have you suit up...we could use your rebounding' We both laughed and parted ways. Principal Rohlfs told the ladies in the office that I would be walking around and asked if they remembered me (they all have blank looks on their faces). If you haven't looked around your old high school in a while, you should. It probably will look a lot different and.....exactly the same. Its a weird thing. Trey was loving EVERY minute of being at Bellevue West. Because of all the various groups and cheerleaders, the BW had a lot of posters and bright colors all over the place. The day we dropped in was the last day of the semester (also the last day of Finals) before the holiday break so most of the teachers and the students had left. I did run into my old math teacher, Mr. Lemon. When I said 'Hey Mr. Lemon!' He gave me the 'I have no idea who you are' look. I then said 'John.....John Cannady?' He then responded with 'OH! I remember you now!' Spoiler alert: he didn't. I think he started to connect 'some' dots as we talked and I brought up who was in my class. I think I confused him because I told him I was a senior in his class (which was a sophomore math class). He asked me 'What you did you graduate again?' and I told him '1996'. He mentioned that it was his first year at the school so things were still a blur for him, which I completely understood. He then asked "Hey, we have another teacher here, Beth Gilbert, who graduated in 1994, do you remember her?' And I did, we didn't interact with each other or anything, but I did remember her. When we arrived at her door, Mr. Lemon said 'Beth! Do you remember....John....here? He graduated in 96' Her look told me her answer before she even stood up to come over. 'Uh.....what year did you say? 96? No...you have to forgive me, I'm not really good with faces and names' Mmmhmmm.....I've heard that a lot in my life when it comes time for people to remember me. She then asked me 'Who did you hang out with?' And right when I started rattling off names 'Brent, Paul, CJ, Ivan.....' She yelped 'YEAH! I remember all of them! Joey James! and Dante Davis too!....aww man, what are they up to now?!' Mr Lemon kinda verbalized what I was thinking 'So, you remember all of them, but not John?' She just gave me the Kanye shrug and said 'Nah...sorry'. This is me my senior year of high school:
So back until my 20 year high school reunion, I thought I was sort of popular, but I couldn't be more wrong. David Stutsman, a super popular DJ that graduated with me from BW in 96, was tasked with putting together the activities for the reunion. One of the best moments (I was told) was the over 20 minute long slideshow of people who graduated from BW in '96. Dave also put the slideshow online so that anyone (like myself) who could watch it. As I watched the slide show, I recognized almost everyone while looking for myself......nothing. I wasn't in the slide show at all. I would be lying to you if I said I didn't care, but I again, I guess I wasn't as popular or known as I thought. Most of my time at BW was like this, I was there....but not 'there'. I often wonder why I look back with such fond memories. Trey and I walked around for around 20 more minutes and I would point out different facts and stories about certain spots in the school. Trey (only being Trey) then asked me: 'Daddy, why doesn't anyone remember you...I thought you played sports' LOL. I just shrugged and said 'I don't know Trey.....maybe I should have talked to more people'
We came back a few hours later to watch the bball teams take on Omaha South. I did sit and talk with two guys that I kind of hung around when I was at BW. Joey Lee (who was a year younger) and Will Kyle (who graduated in 94). Will has a son on the team and he wears my number! When I spotted Greg (Chucky's dad), I go and speak to him and I think he 'kinda of' remembered me also. Because Trey and I watch and follow Chucky from afar, I often forget that I'm not in Nebraska and people don't really know me. So when I went up to Greg and started to talk about Chucky and how sad Trey was that he wouldn't get to see him play, Greg was super nice and just said 'Yeah, he should be back soon. Maybe you will get to see him after the game' and dapped me up. I think I offended a parent sitting next him when I kept bringing up that Trey was bummed he would miss Chucky because she said 'Well.....good thing for your son that Chucky isn't the only player on the team' Yikes! Well, Bellevue West went on to lose that game but ended up with the State title in a very memorable (not only because of the Corona virus) game.
All and all, I always enjoy traveling with Trey. I don't know why but I thought this trip back to Nebraska would be a 'Welcome back John John!' type thing and it just wasn't. I have to tell myself that I hadn't been back in 23 years AND I wasn't as known as I thought I was. The good thing is that I don't think Trey noticed any of that. He actually came back to VA and kept tell Ayren 'I want to go to Bellevue West' LOL. I just reminded him how cold it was at the airport and he then was like 'Oh yeah....maybe not'. I guess I should try to go back more to visit, but with Facebook and Instagram living and breathing, its probably better that I keep track of my high school friends from afar.