by Beth Diane Bradley
They were called “The Cyclons” — a bunch of rambunctious 6th grade boys starting their first year of football with massive amounts of energy and starry-eyed dreams of going Pro.
As a woman who raised one of these cyclones, it was disheartening to watch a coach undo years of maternal prompting to be polite, don’t hit, and certainly don’t knock other children down – it’s just not civilized. I stood there wringing my hands and biting my tongue, watching more sports-savvy parents encourage the aggressive behavior necessary to play football.
Since I was born without the sports gene, I was really hoping my son, Andy, would change his mind about football, and try out for the school play. But it only took one practice to prove I was in for a few years of accidentally cheering for the wrong team, and being more concerned about broken bones than touchdowns.
I decided Mother Nature must not like football either, because she insisted on inflicting lots of cold weather, wind and precipitation on the fans and players. But considering they were called the “cyclons,” it could have been worse.
When they moved on to 7th grade, they had earned the right to call themselves “Raiders,” joining the older boys as part of the Lake Park Audubon school football team. I only had six more years left to learn to understand the game. It may be a no-brainer for some people, but I knew I had my work cut out for me. Each year, I learned a little bit, and promptly forgot it by the next season.
When Andy and his classmates hit 9th grade, they had a big challenge of supporting a very small varsity team that was at risk of losing its spirit. They had suffered some difficult years with on-going losses – but the class of 2008 seemed to show some promise. The coaches, parents and players all felt a sense of hope this class had the talent and commitment to turn Raider football around.
The team forged ahead, winning a homecoming game their junior year and gaining some ground in the playoffs. And finally it was here –their varsity year. Andy realized his dream of becoming starting quarterback. The team was pumped and ready to make it their best year ever.
Once again there were injuries. The worst one at my house was the broken heart attached to the broken ankle that took my son out of the game for the rest of the season, ending his high school football career. Several other players were also hurt, but the team continued to excel. They recorded the most single season wins in the school’s history, despite lasting only two games into the playoffs.
The most memorable moment for me was the last playoff game. It would have been easy to stay home – it was cold out, and my son was not able to play – but I decided to go anyway. They played a good game, but didn’t win, bringing the season to an end.
I hadn’t thought about the big picture until that night – these boys would never play together again as Raiders. I witnessed Andy walking off the field with his arm around an injured friend, another teammate supporting the other side. The tears streaming down their cheeks as they walked off the field aknowledged a treasured piece of their youth was gone. It was an honor to witness this twisted moment of glory and grief.
I never learned to understand the game of football, but what I did learn is that for my son, it wasn’t just an extra-curricular activity, it was a passion. And I’m grateful I was there every season – barely recognizable under rain gear, stocking caps, mittens and boots – to share it with him.