9/11 Tribute at Paloma Valley High School

On Friday night, the 14th anniversary of 9/11, Paloma Valley paid a special tribute to all veterans and active military personnel.  The school had a pre-game ceremony that thanked our veterans for their service and sacrifice. Paloma was able to get permission to unfurl "The Big Flag" which is 100 yards long by 50 yards wide.  The Big Flag is 45,000 sq. feet and covers one entire football field when fully deployed. When presented at baseball games it covers most of the outfield. The Big Flag is made of lightweight nylon and weighs approximately 850 pounds. A minimum of 250 people is required for a presentation. Paloma is only the second high school in the U.S. to host and display the huge American flag owned by the Holiday Bowl Classic Association.  It is one of the largest ceremonial American flags in the United States that is regularly used in conjunction with large public sporting events. The Big Flag has been presented at the Super Bowl, World Series and numerous NFL, NCAA and MLB events.

Just before 7:00 p.m., the flag was carried to the visiting sideline while both teams lined up in each end zone.  The band, color guard, and cheer squads were stationed on the track in front of the home crowd.  Veterans who were Paloma Valley alumni were then asked to stand and be recognized and then all veterans and active military were asked to join them.  The crowd showed its enthusiastic appreciation for their service.  Then students spread across the field and began to unfurl the huge symbol of our nation.  As the flag was unfurled, Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA" began to play.  The crowd began to sing with the music.  Many people, old and young, shed a tear or had their eyes well up.  The flag had another 100 students beneath it to keep it from touching the ground.  They also pushed it up making it appear to wave as if a breeze were blowing.  As soon as the song ended, the Paloma Valley student body began chanting “USA! USA! USA!”  The moment was pure magic.  The crowd was asked to remove their hats and offer a moment of silence in memory of those who lost their lives on 9/11 as well as all the veterans who have preserved our freedom with the ultimate sacrifice.  The stadium was so quiet you could hear a pin drop.  The still air was finally broken by a drum roll followed by the national anthem.  When the anthem ended the crowd erupted with applause and cheers.  The students on the field sprang into action and had the flag folded up within a minute and then proceeded to march it off the field.

At half-time, fans were asked to offer words of appreciation to their friends and family members who had served or were currently serving.  Some wrote out their lines for the announcer to read while others were brave enough to speak to the crowd over the microphone.  The words were definitely from the heart.

The students who carried and displayed the flag included the NJROTC cadets and the freshman football team from Paloma Valley.  Approximately 250 students were involved in deploying the flag while the band, color guard, and cheer squads added another 150 students on the track.  They practiced Thursday and Friday after school to ensure a professional display.

Many thanks goes to Master Sergeant Puebla who helps oversee the NJROTC program at Paloma.  He initially asked for the flag to come to Paloma for 9/11.  A special thank you to Master Sergeant Robert Harden, Master Sergeant Hess, and Sergeant Davis who, on behalf of the San Diego Bowl Association, volunteered many hours to bring the flag to our school and teach our students how to handle the flag.

There is no doubt in my mind that if our students are any indication of love of country, we are in good hands.  Their spirit and patriotism shone like the sun at noon on a clear day.  I have never been more proud to be a Wildcat or an American than that Friday night.

Don Williamson

Paloma Valley High School