When my oldest son was a freshman in high school, he expressed a desire to play football. Little did I know that once his gangly little hands held that piece of pigskin he would be hooked for life.
As a football mom virgin, there was a great deal I didn’t know about the religion that is high school football. I assumed he would stay after school and run around the field in a helmet doing complicated looking but universal drills he would automatically know how to do after putting on his first pair of cleats, and then go home and forget about it until the next day.
I was so woefully uninformed.
Most of us know that team sports are expensive, but nothing quite prepared me for that first trip to buy gear. I had assumed we would only need shoes since the school provides the protective gear. WRONG! That first year we made several trips back to the sporting goods store for a back plate, socks, ankle braces, mouthguard, gloves and something my son calls a “girdle.” Now I know that in the last week of July I should stock up on ramen noodles and macaroni and cheese before I go forth and face the mocking sound of the cash register at the sporting goods store. Aw, Sports Authority, you’re so cute. “Would you like cash back?” Like I will have any after I leave here.
Once you have gotten past the financial aspect of football, there is the sheer volume of time to deal with. Early season practices used be from noon until 8 p.m. Imagine packing a lunch for a child who already eats every 15 minutes for an 8-hour day of full contact practice plus conditioning and weight training? I believe this is how the food truck craze really got started; some exhausted football mom sick of trying to pack 50 pounds of food into a insulated lunch sack was reduced to just transferring the contents of the fridge into a truck so it would be mobile. In addition to practices, there are fundraisers, rallies, boosters meetings and, of course, the traditional Friday night game. It’s like having a part time job where you have to pay them for your time.
In all honesty, we have adapted to the routine, and once my credit card stopped smoking, we really got into it. In the 3 years my son has played football, we have become a full-fledged “football family,” wearing matching shirts with our boy’s number on them and making signs every Thursday night. It was always fun, but I didn’t see the actual value in it until last week.
Recently I had the opportunity to see firsthand the life lessons that my son is learning by being a part of the football team. Last week, my son sustained a spinal injury in the second half of their school’s biggest game of the regular season.
Our school played their greatest rival, a team they hadn’t beaten in over 10 years. It was the fourth quarter, and we were winning quite a bit when my boy staggered off the field, ripped off his helmet, and fell face first in the grass. While the trainers worked on him, the game continued on the field. The boys knew my son was hurt, and I saw a change in attitude in all of them: Now it was personal. They had to finish the game since he couldn’t play.
By the time the buzzer sounded, our son was strapped to a gurney waiting to be loaded on to an ambulance waiting on the track. As the time ran out, all 45 of those boys ran to the place where he lay, and all knelt on the ground, holding his hand and telling him, “We did it! We won! We finished the game for you!” These big strong teenage boys held his hand and cried with him. As the ambulance drove away, the team led the entire stadium in cheering his name as we left the field. I heard the paramedic in the back with my son tell him, “Wow, do you hear that? You’re a rock star man!” I cried my eyes out.
It wasn’t until later that night when his coaches came to visit him in the hospital that I had time to reflect on what I had witnessed. As my son finally surrendered to his coach the jersey he had clutched tightly in his hand throughout his entire ordeal, he told his coach, “I kept it safe the whole time!” I realized the value of the lessons he was learning in football: Discipline. Respect. Accountability. And most of all, loyalty. It’s not all cheerleaders and nachos (although, don’t discount those nachos).
These are the warm and fuzzy things nobody tells you at that first parent meeting. These are the things that they will carry with them through life.
Luckily his injury was temporary and he will be back on the field this weekend. We will be in the stands, rain or shine, holding our signs and wearing our matching shirts, but with a newfound respect. Not just for my son this time, but his football brothers too. I’ve come to love those boys of fall.