Squadron Network fosters togetherness

Published 1:56 am Friday, June 7, 2024

By Haley Mitchell Godwin
The Luverne Journal

In the heart of Highland Home, Friday night lights illuminate the dreams and aspirations of young athletes and the cheers of proud families echo across the stands. Basketball, softball, and baseball also carve their own niches in the community’s fabric, where the crack of the bat and the swish of the net reverberate, symbolizing moments of victory, valuable lessons learned and a sense of togetherness forged through sports.

But, beyond the roar of the crowd lies a unique initiative, the Squadron Network, embodying the spirit of community and innovation.
Created in response to the disruptions of connection caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Squadron Network didn’t simply arise out of necessity — it embodies the resilience and innovative ethos deeply rooted in Highland Home, transcending mere adaptation to become a symbol of enduring strength and a reinforcer of the solid foundation upon which Highland Home School is built.

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“Initially, there was so much uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 protocols — social distancing, amount of people in one place at one time, should we or shouldn’t we attend assemblies or games due to exposure,” said Kasey Pouncey, Career Tech and FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America) advisor, who spearheaded the project. “Highland Home School is a community hub. It plays a crucial role in the social, educational and developmental fabric of the locality and I wanted to make sure our community would not miss any event on campus.”

The initiative, Pouncey said, was an effort to overcome community and personal barriers, and to become a cornerstone of communication and engagement. Pouncey was inspired to create the platform after the loss of her grandmother underscored the importance of staying connected. She aimed to bridge the gap between school events and the wider community, regardless of physical barriers.

“Experiencing the loss of my grandmother in April 2020 was heartbreaking, as it meant missing out on sharing significant life moments with her during her final days due to COVID,” she recalled. “Consequently, the idea of a student’s grandparents being unable to attend events resonated deeply with me.”

Looking for a student leader, a voice for the network, Pouncey’s initial and only preference for a football commentator was Blake McGough.

“Despite not actively participating in play, Blake possesses an in-depth knowledge of every aspect of football,” she said. “I knew Blake, an incoming sophomore at the time, would be at every game, so why not give him a rewarding (but unpaid) job? I’m kidding, he was paid in free Dr. Peppers.”

“Blake has been indispensable to the Squadron Network. He’s the first broadcaster in the history of the program and has been my invaluable assistant. Blake is like my school son and everybody’s big brother on campus.”

With support from District 1 County Commissioner Raymond McGough and a grant from Wiregrass Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) Councils, the program quickly took flight. Broadcasting live events, from sporting spectacles to heartfelt ceremonies, Pouncey said the Squadron Network helped fill the void everyone felt during COVID.

“The Squadron Network is about empowering students with confidence and experience, teaching them communication skills and providing the tools needed to deliver accurate and effective broadcasts,” Pouncey said. “The program’s inaugural crew, led by recent HHS graduate Blake McGough, laid the foundation for a vital community asset.”

According to Pouncey, McGough brought a wealth of knowledge and passion for football, serving as the program’s first commentator. His dedication, alongside that of early team members like Jessica Bodiford and Jordan Bryant, set the program’s standard for excellence and created a solid foundation for the Squadron Network to continue to blossom.

“Blake’s commitment to the Squadron Network has been unparalleled,” Pouncey said. “He’s not just a broadcaster; he’s a mentor, a leader, and a beloved figure in our school community.”

Being part of The Squadron Network isn’t just about announcing games according to the recent high school graduate. For McGough, the experience was transformative.

“I never imagined myself as a commentator,” McGough said. “But being part of the Squadron Network has given me clarity about my future and has also shown me the power of communication and community engagement.”

Being part of the Squadron Network helped McGough more solidly define his career goals and he plans to be a math teacher and football coach.

Rising senior Jessica Bodiford said the impact of the Squadron Network extends beyond the broadcast booth. Students like Bodiford, who harbors aspirations in healthcare, have found a platform to hone their media skills while serving their community.

“It’s about more than just sports,” Bodiford said. “It’s about learning, growing and making a difference.”

Looking ahead, the program shows no signs of slowing down. With rising talents like Ashton Norman, a fifth-grader poised to take over after McGough’s graduation, the Squadron Network continues to inspire and empower the next generation of commentators.

“The Squadron Network wouldn’t be possible without the support of our local leaders and organizations,” Pouncey said. “Together, we’re building a foundation for a brighter, more interconnected future.”

As the Friday night lights continue to shine brightly over Highland Home, the hardwood meets heart time and time again and the thud of the catcher’s mitt echoes through the town along with the other sounds of various sports season; the school and community spirit continues to be fueled and reinforced by the character that the school’s foundation rests upon and by the Squadron Network.