Some of them were standing along the front rail in Brownwood Lion T-shirts, some in soccer uniforms and others were still wearing the same thing they’d worn on the first day of school. With lots of running up and down the steps, along the aisles and between the benches, it was amazing to see them stop suddenly as a group and rush to a single spot when Lucy the Lion came within shouting distance. While there were the occasional shouts out to siblings and other older kids as they were recognized, it was the mascot that was most likely to hold the children’s attention at Monday’s Meet the Lions event.

A couple of us joked in the stands that we’d never had an event like Meet the Lions - which is similar to events held in Early, Bangs and many other area towns - when we were competing in high school. As a cross country and track runner, it wasn’t unusual for people not to even recognize the symbols on our letter jackets much less attend a Saturday morning meet. I don’t recall if our meet wins even earned a mention during the daily announcements, although I do remember the vice principals leading the entire school in cheers for our football team over the speaker system.

And while our community, like so many others, may pack the stands for football and few other sports, Monday’s event wasn’t just about the football team - or even just the high school teams. Athletes from the middle school teams and cheerleading squads also got their moment in the spotlight, enjoying the recognition from the fans who packed the home side of Gordon Wood Stadium. While not every student was identified by name, each team - from cross country to tennis to volleyball to football - was honored and given their moment to bask in the applause. The band, drill team, Crew and cheerleaders were likewise recognized.

For all the accolades offered to our community’s young athletes, there are still some strong feelings that we do not do enough to honor students’ academic achievements. The complaint is that we don’t host a Meet the Lions event for the students who compete in UIL academic events. While many students compete and excel in both athletics and academics - just as many participate in more than one sport - some students focus their efforts solely on the classroom. That seems a logical decision because there are far more academic scholarships offered at colleges and universities than there are athletic ones.

There are many ways to rationalize the difference in how athletics and academics are recognized, but they are rationalizations at the core. All our students who excel at something should be held up for praise, and those who struggle need the support to raise their performance. That’s true in the classroom as well as on the athletic field. Drawing too many distinctions between the two, and creating more of a divide between students, only deepens feelings of resentment. It creates an “us versus them” mentality, when our teachers, parents, boosters and community should instead be focusing on a “we” mentality.

Meet the Lions - or Longhorns, or Dragons, or whoever - isn’t just about elevating athletics. It’s about elevating our youth, and offering support to teenagers as they enter the time of their lives when they need it most. For the junior high and high school students on the field Monday night, it was a reminder that there is a community out here that is standing behind them. For the younger kids running around in the stands, it provided more than an evening out - it was a chance to see how a community can pull together and recognize a person’s effort, regardless of the future outcome. It gave them something to look forward to. And for some of us, it was a chance to think about what might have been and smile as we watched our kids and thought about what will be.

And when the star of the show is a big, furry mascot — at least from where I was sitting - it’s really all good. Isn’t it?

Bill Crist is associate publisher and general manager of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Wednesday. He may be reached by e-mail at bill.crist@brownwoodbulletin.com.