As a mother of three daughters, I can honestly imagine any of them doing something as crazy as wanting to play high school football! In their own way, they exude the personality and the passion of standing out.
I remember my experience down to the first conversation. Almost jokingly I asked my friend, Joe, what he thought about me going out for the high school football team. We were in the lunchroom and the conversation was as nonchalant a talk as one would discuss the weather. Nice out today, isn’t it? Sun is still shining. Want to go out for the football team? Sure, get me the paperwork. Nothing to it, no big deal.
The most competitive sport I had participated in up to that point was gymnastics, and to me, that still seems like an individual effort. You are not required to rely on anyone else for your successes. I ran cross-country one year and took swimming lessons one summer when my mom was working for the local college. Nothing like the hard-core physicality of football.
What drew me to the obsolete idea of my tiny 5 foot- 4 inch, 112 pound frame playing on a football field with muscular, heavy boys would appear to most of my family and friends (at that time) as a whim. No one ever thought I would make it past summer conditioning – what is known as 2-a-days. The first week of conditioning was rough. It was hot; I was being handed the workout of a lifetime and was expected to do everything the boys were doing. And I did. During the second week of conditioning, my parents took my sister and me to Florida for summer vacation and everyone on the football team thought I had quit.
The real reason I was drawn to the game? Well, my dad and my aunt have always loved the game. It wouldn’t have been Thanksgiving at grandma’s without having a football game on after dinner. Growing up in the vicinity of Cleveland and the Browns being what they were in the 80s, I always knew which team to root for!
Most of the men I knew as a child, and know now, enjoy watching football and playing a game in the backyard with their buds or sons. It’s great bonding time, and great exercise. But, honestly there was something more. There seemed to be something special, dare I say even a bit magical, about going to a high school football game – the smells of hot dogs and popcorn, the warm hot chocolate on the brisk Friday evenings, the loud cheers (or boos) in the stands.
And there was something about the lights. When football field lights come on in bright contrast against the dark sky and everyone has a seat or a place to lean on the fence, the home team is announced. At this moment, time seems to nearly stand still as the team comes dashing onto the field with force, anxiousness and a passion that could only be described once you feel it for yourself.
That’s what I wanted. I wanted to feel that kind of passion, that energy. I wanted to work hard for something and have those luminous lights beckon me.
I knew in order to experience that moment, I had to run. I had to sweat. I had to test every last lingering ache of my body. That was my personal battle and I endured it bravely. I’m sure it was inconvenient for the coaches to find a separate locker room for me. I know the guys on the team were frustrated at the attention I got from the local newspaper. I know that the team was afraid of tackling drills where I was involved. I know my parents caught wind of commentator judgement calls about me. But I really never felt outcast or targeted because I was doing this for me. That was my focus. That is what mattered.
Worth Every Moment
Turns out that I played in the junior varsity, Saturday morning games, but I was still running onto the field those fall Friday nights and experiencing the rush of that moment. My proudest moment? Having my grandparents, my aunt, and my parents at the one varsity game where coach sent me out for a play: wing-right 72 trap, and all I had to do was run straight. I could manage that. We were winning by several tens of points and even if I screwed up, no one would hate me. But someone had to fill that position, on that play, on that Football Friday Night. And I got to do it!
So, yeah, if my daughters want to try something in their lives that other people “don’t get” or aren’t receptive to, don’t understand, question or are jealous of, I won’t mind. I’m raising my girls with a strong voice and an even stronger parental backbone. Every drop of sweat, every tear cried in doubt or pain, every bump, bruise, road-block along the way is worth it. Because owning yourself with confidence, dignity, faith and courage, will earn you a chance at discovering that magical moment of those luminous lights. Go get ’em girls!