Being the first to do something is a wonderful feeling.

Think George Washington, Charles Lindergh, Chuck Yeager, Roger Bannister, Marilyn Monroe, Althea Gibson, Alan Shepard, Arthur Ashe, Neil Armstrong, Bon Scott and, well I could go on and on and on.

The point is, being the first to do something is so special since no one else can do it, ever. Be it walk on the moon, break the four-minute mark in the mile, it is quite cool to be the first.

I was fortunate enough to be in a class that was part of a first.

It was my senior year in high school, and our class was the one that got to open Ratliff Stadium, a $5.6 million shrine to all things Texas football.

It was the biggest and the best high school football complex in a state known for big and best things. At the time, it was better than half of the college stadiums in the state.

Sitting out north of town, with its 19,000 seats of freshly poured concrete, three-level press box and sunken artificial surface, a rarity in my day, it was a sight that brought tears to some eyes. The cost may have been part of that, but it was a sight.

And my class was the first to play on its field, soil its locker rooms and create huge cheers from its packed crowds. We only got to play in it five times, but made the most of those games, winning them all.

On Sept. 12, a group of kids will get to experience the same exact feeling I had some 32 years ago. They will be the first ones, and the only ones, to walk into a brand new home field and make it their own.

No one will ever be able to lay claim to that fact. And trust me, it is a special feeling.

Madras should be very proud of its new toys. It’s not often a town gets to experience the newness of such an endeavor.

The school board has worked hard to get these facilities built, and with the town’s help, it is all coming together.

But it goes way beyond just a football stadium. There is the brand new performing arts center, which will be used by members of the band, choir, drama club and many others. Money has also been spent to resurface the tennis courts, giving them a new, more modern look and feel.

There is a lot to be proud of right now. But there is something that comes with having all these new toys — responsibility.

And that falls on the shoulders of everyone in this community.

When Ratliff first opened, the stands were packed beyond capacity, partly because of the quality of the football, but also because people just wanted to see the facility.

And that aspect got a little out of control, quickly.

On non-Friday nights, the palace was on lockdown. Unlike so many football stadiums where people could go to just sit in stands or play pickup games on the field, Ratliff, from day one, was like a prison that no one could break into.

Ten-foot high fences laced with razor blades circled the facility. There were guards on sight 24 hours a day, armed and aided by police dogs.

There was, of course, a reason for that. The city had spent so much money on the facility, it was not going to take any chances of letting anyone get inside and trash it.

I’m sure the feeling is the same here in Madras.

There are a lot of people who have worked very hard to get these new facilities built, from school board members, to coaches and community leaders, and the last thing they want is to see is the facilities trashed in any way.

But, unfortunately, it is already happening.

Months before the Madras tennis teams even get the opportunity to break in their new courts, skid marks from bikes and skateboards are already appearing on the newly painted surface. Nets, also newly purchased, have already been damaged due to impromptu soccer matches.

So what’s next, the trashing of the football field before anyone gets to even step foot on it? Maybe the bleachers will be pillaged before the start of the season, or even the press box vandalized.

Where does it stop? Or more importantly, how does it stop?

The football field and track will be guarded by fences, but that doesn’t guarantee anything. The tennis courts could be locked, taking away the only place in town to play tennis.

But does it really have to come to that? The Madras track team went seven years without a home meet because of the condition of its track. Sometime next spring, there will be a track meet in Madras and the kids that partake in it will feel something that no one from their team has felt in years — pride.

Hopefully the track will still be intact at that time.

In a few days, Ratliff Stadium will open its 32nd season. It has seen some changes over the years, but the old gal still sits proudly on the plains north of Odessa.

It doesn’t see as many people come through its gates as it used to, but it’s still there because people made sure to take care of it.

Hopefully, 32 years from now, Madras can say the same thing.

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