As I stood in the blazing August sun, I shielded my eyes and squinted toward the man gesturing in the grandstands before me. I had been marching with fellow members of our high school color guard all morning, and the man in the stands was our coach, Vince.
We were standing in formation in the hot summer sun as we followed Vince’s direction while he adjusted our positions on the field. He taught us flag routines and dance numbers, and he perfected our marching techniques. We spent hours running routines and making sure our performance was tight and polished.
And we did this for 8 hours a day, five days a week during our band camp as we prepared for the upcoming season of supporting our football team.
When the school year started, we’d practice late into the evening several days a week. Weekends found us traveling with our high school football team to perform the pregame show for the visiting team or providing music and entertainment for our home audience. Often we’d arrive home late at night and still have to go to school in the early morning hours. Sometimes my entire weekend was filled with participating in football games, band competitions, or local parades.
It was a lot to manage, and I loved every minute of my time with my color guard. But even though I excelled in my beloved activity, I always felt that being on the color guard wasn’t as accepted as football or basketball or other “ball” sports. Comments about not being able to cut it on the field and being doomed to the sidelines always made me cringe. Kids would make mean jokes about band geeks and make fun of our uniforms (though, come to think of it, my costume did have orange sequins on it).
I didn’t let their comments deter me. I continued to do what I loved in high school, and now that I have kids, I fully support their decisions to spend time in activities that don’t come with letterman jackets or trophies. And just because they aren’t running soccer drills or swinging bats in batting cages five days a week, it doesn’t mean they aren’t just as dedicated or focused on their skills.
My kids are actively involved in theater productions, and their schedule is jam-packed when they are preparing for a show. Theater and drama kids are the unsung heroes of the school activity world, truly. Not only do they have to memorize lines for shows that often run an hour or longer, they also have to learn complicated dance routines that must be perfected. They are learning about the technical side of theater when they are running the light- and sound-boards in the back of the theater. They are learning how to be a leader when they’ve been selected as a student director.
Theater kids spend long hours in vocal coaching, costume design, and set building. And when the curtain goes up on their show, they’ve often spent months making sure every note is perfect.
These kids deserve Tony awards, for sure.
When my children were small, we enrolled them in Scouting, because my family has a long tradition of Scout participation. In the early years, the children in Scouts spend time learning about their communities by visiting local firehouses and police stations, and they learn valuable skills in communication and volunteering. They learn to see the Earth as a place to be protected and often do a great deal of community service.
Now that my son is 13, he’s working toward his Eagle Scout rank. In order to reach that distinction, he must spend long hours hiking, learning life-saving survival skills, and proving he understands the values of his community. A boy hoping to earn the Eagle Scout rank must complete a project entirely on his own that betters his community. And that takes time, effort, and a whole lot of determination on the part of the Scout. These boys and girls are often overlooked for accolades simply because their uniform doesn’t have a number on the back.
Whether it’s a kid who excels at playing the violin or a kid who spends hours in a dance studio preparing for a dance competition, there’s a life beyond traditional sports for many kids. Every child has a talent that should be celebrated and encouraged. And if it means helping a kid perfect their speech for the student government election or driving them to a gaming completion, we should be proud of them for chasing dreams that don’t include referees and a scoreboard.
So much emphasis is placed on excelling on the field that parents sometimes forget that the arts — and other activities outside of sports — are just as important (if not more so) for this generation of kids growing up with social media and 24/7 internet access.
Recently, I attended a Powder Puff football game where my son was one of the cheerleaders. As my husband and I took in the bright lights, the sights of the kids walking around the stadium just as we had 20 years ago, and the smells from the snack stand, I smiled as I reminisced about my days on the field as a marching band member. And when I heard the high school band start its cadence and watched them march onto the field, I resisted the urge to grab a flag and join them.
I’d never trade those memories, and I hope my kids feel the same way when they get to revisit their high school days.