THE JASPER GENTLEMEN

Hard to explain how Carol and I got involved with Jasper County, South Carolina. We had been here about a month. We had spent that month visiting doctors, buying furniture and hanging up pictures. After that was concluded we reverted to type and started to go to local school board meetings. What, you don’t do that very thing? Who knows what evil lurks in the minds of men and women. Someone used to say that on “The Shadow.”
Somehow, we are drawn to long and boring meetings where people talk in code and none of the audience has any idea of what they are saying. They start to vote on things. If it’s a rubber stamp board, they agree with everything that is being presented to them. If they are totally against anything the school superintendent says, then you still don’t know what they are saying, but the tone changes and the volume gets turned up.
So it was at a meeting in Jasper County, a poor rural school district, that we met some of the school administrators. We thought that we might be of some use to the school district. Since our experience in rural areas goes back about 35 years we might have something to offer. We even know what it is like to teach in a rural school and have children graduate from a rural high school with a graduating class of 70.
We offered to work with some students at the high school. L.R., one of the assistant principals at the high school was gracious enough to take me on and show me the ropes. We made a date for me to get acquainted with the building and some of the staff. I asked him if I could meet with ten young men in the senior class. That would give me some idea of what was going on. I might also be able to be of some assistance to them if they were going to try and get a job, go into the military or going on to college. I asked that no matter what kind of youngster he chose; please give me young men who were articulate. I didn’t mind if they were bad guys, jocks, nerds or what, just so that they were articulate. L.R. outdid himself.
He gathered 10 (actually 11) guys who fit that bill to a t. They were basketball players, academics, bad guys and nerds. However, no matter what sort of guy they were, they were articulate. They were not the student council folks, nor members of the debating team (they don’t have such a team). They were people who could communicate. They were not afraid of either expressing their opinion or letting me know what they needed. They were also kind.
I must remember that I am in South Carolina and not Pennsylvania. These young men are aware of what is happening around them. They understand that it is tough to get a job. Their families have problems that stem from a lack of resources. Yet, they are ready to take on the world. They know that education is the pathway to success. I did not have to go there with that thought. They already know that by continuing their education, they will have a chance to succeed.
That is the idea of 8 out of the 11 of them. The other three, or sometimes four, will be looking for a job when they get out of school. They have no illusions that there are substantial jobs in Jasper County. They will have to go to adjacent Beaufort County to get some sort of job. Most of the jobs are menial. They revolve around the tourism industry on Hilton Head Island. Yes, there are higher paid jobs in some of the car dealerships as mechanics. However, those are few and far between. They are also competing with the people who now have those jobs. Most will become workers in the various resorts or senior communities.
There is some hope for the future. A port will be built in Jasper County within the next five years. This will bring some jobs to the area. There will have to be training for the new employees. Who will do that training is another question. The Jasper Gentlemen are aware of these happenings.
Most of them want desperately to go to college. They are somewhat aware of the process. They have even gone online at my suggestion to apply for scholarships. They have filled out their federal forms, and have applied to colleges of their choice. However, they are not in tune with what steps they must take next. They have not visited too many of the colleges that they have chosen. Carol and I must make sure that they get to some of those schools. They are also not aware of a backup college in case they don’t make it into their first choice. That will be something that will come along. We will try and prepare them.
Two of the young men are athletes. One of them may be a D-1 basketball player. He is the consummate player at any position. He has had feelers from Clemson and other schools. The other is a quarterback and seriously would like to play on Sundays in the NFL. He is dickering with some schools as a walk-on. I will try and help him with that.
These are truly wonderful guys. Carol and I are enthused about the community. We have been to about 9 basketball games and will go to others, especially if they get to the state playoffs. We have become familiar with Coach Faber and his 31 years as coach at the high school. He is concerned about his players and is a strict disciplinarian. On Saturday night we watched a basketball game between the Deacons and the Preachers. It was a sight to behold. Some of the players were former college and high school players. However, it gave us a chance to see the community as they are. Once again, I had a feeling that I was back in 1955.

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