The rhythm and meter tightened to mark time in just moments because this was a well-established ritual that we all were part of. In the day of the
Friday afternoon pep rally followed by the most important night of the year until the next Friday arrived, the chant was what gave us our power. Forget magic rings and spells of power, this was the real thing.
Down on the pristine pine court the cheerleaders shaded their eyes from the bright lights and looked up into the crowd to find him. The right side of the bleachers stood and strained to make sure he was in place.
When he was spotted sitting hunched over in great meditation, we would all sit down again and smile knowing we were about to feel it.
Adrenaline? Electricity? The Holy Ghost?
I still don’t know what it was – but as always, the chant would grow with as many as a thousand bright, hopeful voices – the marching band, facing us from the opposite wall, their instruments at their sides because no instrument could match the intensity of that primal scream -- words and frequencies resounding from the gym. Even the kids making out under the bleachers stopped long enough to marvel at the spectacle (yeah, we saw you).
Stop reading for a moment and listen.
Listen back 20 years…. Orbie, Orbie, Orbie…. Do you hear it?
Listen back 25 years… Can you feel it? Orbie, Orbie, Orbie….
Listen back 35 years… Remember? Orbie, Orbie, Orbie….
The football players in their blue and gold or blue and white jerseys – depending on which years you went to JHS – pumped their fists into the air with such ferocity, you really felt sorry for the opposing team that night.
Orbie Lynne Cook sat behind players, stoically anticipating his God-given destiny.
Sweat would begin to glisten on his forehead – his brown curly hair glistened too.
On several occasions I swear I could hear a subsonic droning sound emanating from his body – a sound normally only heard by dogs and psychics.
At the crescendo of the Orbiegasm, he rose to his feet as the student body screamed victory and high-fived each other (you older ones gave each other “some skin”) and without a moment’s hesitation, he walked down one bleacher at a time through the players – They mussed his hair and slapped his back and yelled his name, “Orbie! Orbie! Orbie!”
When he reached the floor, the cheerleaders surrounded him and shook their pom-poms and did the splits and this and that. Orbie didn’t seem to notice because, despite the fact the game was still four hours away, his head was already in the game.
He looked bigger than life during these times in front of the crowd.
Actually he was bigger than life – 6’ 3” pushing 400 pounds and those skinny little cheerleaders looked like stick figures next to a mountain.
Gen. George Patton and William Wallace were both amateurs by Orbie standards.
His motivational speeches were always brief and to the point: “We’re going out there tonight and we’re going to kick their butts!” The crowd would go wild – because we knew that no team could touch us.
We knew that that we had something that they didn’t have – Orbie.
When the speech was over, Orbie would look into the face of each and every student – he studied them and calculated the moment in which to bring the rafters down. Then, he would strike:
The crowd would repeat it in a unified scream.
“WE DON’T MESS…!”
“WE DON’T MESS AROUND, HEY!”
That night on the field, Orbie would lead cheers and keep the energy flowing.
He would offer encouragement to the fans and players if the situation was dire.
When the game was over and the lights went out, Orbie would walk back to his house on Goodlet Street and recount the day’s adventure, alone.
But the times changed and passed and we all got older and a great chasm formed between our futures and our past.
Orbie went to work at the Anniston Army Depot and stayed there for seventeen years until his health forced him to come out on disability back in 2002.
He could still be seen around town, but the days of him cheering on the crowds at the pep rallies were over.
Last Friday, just before kickoff at Jacksonville High School’s Homecoming, we brought Orbie back to honor his past with a Lifetime Spirit Award.
He was temporarily released from a physical rehab facility where he has been recovering from a fall he took last month.
Although confined to a wheelchair now, he got to see a lot of old friends and teachers who cheered him on as he accepted the award.
It was like a day had never passed; the crowd went into the ritual chant automatically -- Orbie, Orbie, Orbie….
Even with the trach tube in his throat to help him breath, Orbie seemed to ignore it altogether and he let loose a thundering, “WEEEEEEEEEE!!”- followed by the inevitable “We don’t mess around!”
The crowd went wild as expected.
The younger generation gave quizzical looks to their parents and seemed embarrassed for only a moment – then it all made sense to them
This was the fellow they had heard so much about.
This was the man with the odd name who commanded everyone to support their Eagles.
This was the legend. This was the man who did not mess around – and they took note.
You can go to youtube.com and search for “Orbie Lynn Cook” to see the presentation.