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Fireworks, Xboxes and gummy bears

July 3. I’m pulling out a shopping cart at Meijer when I overhear a dad, his pre-teen daughter beside him, ask the greeter, “Where are the fireworks?”

“Indiana,” I call out, but he doesn’t hear; he’s finding out the store doesn’t have any REAL fireworks, illegal in Illinois. Thank goodness.

I once thought it was only dogs and I who hated fireworks. For me, they mean mosquitoes, crowds, heat and humidity; for dogs, the first explosion sets them quaking. Now, thanks to National Public Radio (6/29/19), I find birds have issues with those sonorous spectacles as well.

“Late on New Year’s Eve 2010 ... some 5,000 red-winged blackbirds, European starlings, common grackles and brown-headed cowbirds suffered blunt-force trauma after colliding with cars, trees and buildings. ... When birds hear the loud boom, they panic.”

Closer to home, in a Chronicle letter (6/20/19), Holly Sparks questioned Batavia High School’s idea to enliven gridiron contests with fireworks. “The money could be used for better things, such as math, science and history. ... Are fireworks going to get [students] into college on an academic scholarship?”

Yay, Holly! But what about English? Saving on fireworks just to solve X and Y? To simply show documentaries starring amoebas (amoebae?)? To merely relate stories of people literally living in the past?

I jest, but English teaches kids how to express themselves beyond clicking favorite emojis and employing punctuation other than the exclamation point!!!

They’re also expected to read what in my day were known as “books,” but now go by the name of “It’s in my locker,” or “Can I get it online?” Sure, they might remember when their hard copy of “Lord of the Flies” arrived, the Amazon box the size of a side-by-side fridge. Expecting the drone they ordered, they’re deflated when, submerged in a pool of Styrofoam worms, something without a bitten apple logo waits expectantly.

Removing the object, they listen for a ding announcing incoming texts while searching for a keyboard where thumbs can send a message or fire a subjective pistol in close-quarter firefights.

OK, I hyperbolize. But Holly’s got a point. Should Sports Boosters be contributing to noisy overhead sparklers when parents’ contributions could possibly help reduce class size by hiring even one more teacher to facilitate individual help, encourage shy students to contribute, and create better class cohesiveness?

“Anathema!” Hockey Mom bellows. “Our teams need jerseys with players’ names printed with the capital letters absent in their emails.”

“And Rick,” Swimming Dad cajoles, “instead of parents contributing to an academic faculty Christmas bonus, our teams need state-of-the-art weight rooms, bank-lighted artificial turf fields, and Olympic-sized natatoriums to keep our athletes college-competitive.”

“Not only that,” College Baseball Alum adds, “but Sports Boosters could donate homeroom Xboxes and gummy bears, the stimulation on game days keeping kids jazzed, if not focused.”

Maybe these concerned voices have a point. Maybe keeping students immersed in athletic glory should take priority over academics. After all, what’s training in mathematics’ logical thought, science’s peer-reviewed research, history’s lessons from the past, or languages’ clarity of thought when, after the tight end runs it in for a touchdown, there are brassy sky bombs to be marveled at?

Let the celebration begin.

Rick Holinger lives in Geneva, teaches high school English, and facilitates Geneva library’s writing workshop. A collection of his columns, “Kangaroo Rabbits and Galvanized Fences,” is forthcoming. Contact him at

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