My youngest son's team played in 40 degree weather in the pouring rain to win the Bigs Championship game for his football league. The game had been postponed two days because the home fields were flooded, and there had been talk of not playing the game at all. But the players and coaches said, "No way. We'll play in a parking garage if we have to."
And they meant it.
He will age out of the league after this year, so it is terribly bittersweet to know he has taken the field for NYO for the last time. Although our time there has been short — three football seasons — it has been incredibly impactful. I actually wonder if playing multiple sports for many years there might have actually diluted the impact that these three particular seasons have had on my son and my family. I know that have fertilized my growing love of the sport of football — when played by good kids with great coaches for the love of the game.
Season 1 —5th Grade — Crimson Tide
|NYO 2016 — Army team supports Jordan's brother during Basic Training.|
The Army coach didn't have to do this. I honestly don't even know how he knew. Maybe our coach told him? Maybe he heard through the grapevine? But regardless of how it happened ... it happened ... and our family was blessed.
|Same team! Convenient for teachers who came to watch.|
Jordan's coaches were amazing. They were tough and supportive and funny and great teachers. They had a team full of first-time players and therefore everyone assumed the team would be weak.
They. Were. Not. Weak.
Coaches James, Penn, and Howard taught them fundamentals and had fun at the same time. They yelled like banshees and made fun of themselves for doing so. And they won the championship. They said that they gauge their success not by the standings, but by how many of their players want to come back and play football again the next year. Well, regardless of which metric you use — record or retention rate — they are off the charts. We would be back for another season. And our family was blessed.
Season 2 — 6th Grade — SteelersJordan was drafted by the same coaches the next year, which was a little surprising, but tickled us to death. Jordan had a great first year, he's a big kid, and was named to the All-Star Team, so he was no longer an unknown. Other teams were eyeing him. But the coaches wanted him back, so they drafted him early. We were ecstatic.
Then he broke his knuckle on Labor Day at football practice. (Just FYI ... knuckles are not strong enough to withstand being stepped on by a 6th grade boy wearing cleats. Just so ya' know.)
That was the end of his season playing, but not the end of his season. His coaches made him team captain multiple times. They let him help coach and organize practices. They even planned a surprise banner for him playing off his nickname of Edge. He came to all the games and most of the practices and he learned lessons that can only be learned by not playing.
But the boy still wanted to play. And he couldn't. This picture was captured at a playoff game and the coach sent it to me with a note saying, "Just a kid who wants to play some ball with his buddies." It's one of my favorite pictures of him because it captures his season in a beautiful — yet heartwrenching — manner.
|He just wants to play...|
The Final Season — 7th Grade — RaidersWhere do I start?
First, Jordan was drafted by the same coaches for the third year in a row. Unheard of. I got an email while the draft was still going on.
And that she had cancer.
And that she would only make it to one game before she passed.
Katherine died at home on Saturday, September 22.
Another player lost his beloved grandfather on Monday, September 24.
Both boys played with their team on Tuesday, September 25.
|Jordan, Me, Katherine, and Tripp on September 5|
But then they played again. And again. And again.
There is something about playing a team sport in general — and football in particular — that pulls boys together. They let themselves feel the gut punch for a time, then they got back on the field and played.
|The Hurricane (Michael) Bowl of 2018|
In a hurricane.
Through a tornado warning.
In the dark.
They played through the one-year anniversary of the death of another player's father — the only football coach he had ever had prior to this year.
They played with 12 players — when 11 are on the field at a time — more than once.
And finally, at the championship game, they played on an unfamiliar field in the cold and rain.
They played with two members of their team on the bench with injuries — right where Jordan had been the year before.
|They just want to play too|
They came. And they played. And they were boys. And they were men. And they had been to hell and back together. And they prevailed.
And our family was blessed.
But not because of a (second) championship. We were blessed because of the lessons that were learned on a field of grass over the course of those three seasons.
- You don't write off a team or teammate because they aren't experienced.
- You pray for the impossible — and sometimes it happens.
- You support other teams because you're only their opponents on the field, for one day.
- You're on the team whether you play or not.
- It's OK to be sad or mad or hurt when something bad happens and you couldn't do anything to stop it.
- But it's not OK to put the blame on yourself.
- When someone sticks their neck out for you — when they choose you — you owe them your best. Better than your best.
- Sisterhood is forever. #ChiOmega #KeepRolleN #ShesStillSwimming
- You should hurt when your brothers hurt.
- You should help your brothers bounce back when the time is right.
- You shouldn't expect conditions to always be favorable. Embrace the suck.
We are leaving blessed.