Safety Patrol

By Joe Rector

I made a quick run through Facebook this afternoon, and in one post, someone had placed a photo of an orange plastic mesh belt and a metal piece pinned to it. Do you know what it is? If you do, you’re probably an older person. I doubt that schools still allow students the privilege to serve as members of the safety patrol, at least the way we did in the ’60s.

Ball Camp School had a patrol of which every student wanted to be a member. However, eighth graders were given preference. It was a matter of seniority or pecking order although good grades in classes and in conduct (yes, we had a conduct grade) in some way factored into the equation, and believe it or not, I had both. Those on patrol had ranks, although I don’t remember what mine was.

The most precious thing in my possession was that safety patrol belt and badge. It gave anyone who wore that neon strip a feeling of power. More to the point, students on the “force” were released from class early each day. They donned their uniforms and moved toward their stations. We would never again feel so close to being superheroes as when that time came in the morning and afternoon.

I remember that my station was at the entrance of the school. There the new building had been opened just that year. It replaced the portion of the old school that burned in 1963. Two of us waved buses into the parking area. At times, we walked out into the middle of Ball Camp Pike and held out the flags. we’d been assigned. All cars in both lanes stopped. Oh, the power of that flag was intoxicating. With things at a standstill, children could cross the road and go into Silvey Brothers Store, and to the dismay of irate drivers, several buses left the school to begin the routine of stopping every half minute or so to let young’uns off. Cursing under their breaths, drivers knew that their journeys would be slow and time-consuming.

At times, we faced some dangers. The only yellow raincoat I ever wore belonged to the school. I wore it when the weather was damp and raw. Patrol officers never thought much about cars sliding on slick streets and banging into one another or into one of them. On one occasion, the rain fell in buckets, and the ditch in front of the school failed to carry the runoff. Before long, the water backed up into the street, and my concern shifted from traffic to my survival from a raging river of ditch water.

Are safety patrol officers from the schools still around? I seriously doubt that the overly protective schools of today would allow children to stand at the intersection of a school and step out to stop cars or to allow students to cross the road. I feel sorry for the kids of today because they have no idea how exhilarating it is to play that kind of real-life game. Besides, not as many buses are needed since nearly every child has a personal chauffeur to take them to school and pick them up.

Maybe a section in the elementary school history book should be devoted to safety patrol members who served bravely during the 1940s-60s. On second thought, that might not be wise since such a chapter might offend some folks. The patrol members from back in the day will remain unnamed heroes in school zones across the country.