The End of an Era

Nov
8


My favorite football player. Number 57. I love him.


As I near the end of my five year up-close and personal love-hate relationship with football, I feel sentimental. And relieved. Football is nearly a year-round sport, as they start after-school weight-lifting practice in January, a mere month after the playoff season ends in early December, ramping up to summer camps and summer practices before school starts and the football season begins in earnest all over again.

Weston went to football camp two years in a row at West Virginia University. He was 13 his first year.

He started playing in 8th grade at the little school in town.

Go Tigers! He was #82 (middle of the field in this photo–some of these older photos are in odd sizes and not so great…).

The little school doesn’t have a football team every year. Weston couldn’t help but make the team. They have to beg, borrow, and steal any boy with passing grades and two legs to fill the roster.

He loved it.

Here he is coming off the practice field during his freshman year on the high school team. (Second from the right.)

I wrote this little haiku to memorialize my stress as I drove three children around to all their activities:


September deadline
Hands flash in creative rush
Cruel sports interrupt.


Here he was fresh out of the locker room, freshman year.

There’s a cute little post associated with that photo from 2007: Behind the Royal Curtain.

This photo is from his sophmore year. (Middle of the photo, without a helmet.)


That was the first time he tried to quit football. His middle school football buddies had gone on to play at the high school in ninth grade, but by tenth, they’d all fallen away. I don’t know if it was because they decided they didn’t like football or because their parents didn’t like driving for football. It’s hard for the country kids to play sports because their parents have to drive so much farther to pick them up every day and for all those late nights after away games. (Every trip to the school and back means at least an hour for me out where we are.)

Early in the season in 10th grade, he told me he wanted to quit. I knew how much he had enjoyed football for two years already, so I pressed him for an explanation. He told me he wanted to quit because his friends had quit. He didn’t think football would be any fun without them. I told him he couldn’t quit something he loved just because his friends had quit. He had to quit football because HE didn’t like it. Otherwise, forget it, he was playing. We made a deal–he’d play sophmore year. If he didn’t enjoy it, he could quit after that and never play again. I made him go to practice the next day and at the end of the season, one fine day, he thanked me for not letting him quit. (See The Game I Love to Hate.)

He was #60 in his JV days.

Eleventh grade was his toughest year.

It was Meet the Team night. I sat in the stadium as they called each boy’s name and they ran forward on the field. They called Weston’s name and nobody ran. They called the next boy’s name. I got up, ran to the fenceline, found a coach, asked him where was Weston? He didn’t know. (Freaking out.) I ran to the fieldhouse. Nobody answered when I knocked. I did what I wouldn’t normally do and opened the door. I couldn’t see anybody. Eventually I found the trainer–and he found Weston. He was in the back of the fieldhouse. He had an injury, had had an injury which he’d been trying to play through during practices, and hadn’t told anyone. And that night, just before the Meet the Team event, he’d realized that injury was serious, that he couldn’t go on pretending, and that it was going to sideline him, possibly for the entire season. The emotion of that realization had kept him from going onto the field. We were at the doctor’s office the next morning, followed by repeat physical therapy visits in Charleston. He was sidelined for most of the season. He was inspired and encouraged over the coming days and weeks by the trainer–who he became close to. And then a few weeks later, that trainer committed suicide. I took Weston to the funeral, at his request.

He went to every single practice, and every single game–suiting up though he couldn’t play. He cheered enthusiastically from the sidelines.
IMG_8876
He was only able to play in the last couple of games. It was my toughest year, too. I went to all the home games, and picked him up late, late, late at night from away games–when he wasn’t even playing. But he was so dedicated, even when he was sidelined, that I couldn’t complain.

This year, at the beginning of his senior year, he tried to quit again. (He’s #57 on the varsity team.)

He came to me one day before school started (practice had been going on for a month by then, of course) and told me he was going to turn his things in to the coaches the next day and quit the team. I said, “WHY?” He had a car and a girlfriend. He wanted to get a job and make money. I found myself in the same tempting situation as he’d placed me in when he tried to quit in 10th grade. And had to resist the urge to tell him to just go ahead. I told him that he couldn’t quit something he loved for a car, a girlfriend, or a job. He had to quit it because he didn’t love it anymore and it wasn’t fun anymore. Or he wasn’t quitting. And besides, NOBODY QUITS FOOTBALL IN THEIR SENIOR YEAR. And I reminded him that he thanked me for not letting him quit in 10th grade just because his friends had quit. And that NOBODY QUITS FOOTBALL IN THEIR SENIOR YEAR. And did he remember that he went to every single practice and every single game last year when he couldn’t even PLAY?! We went through ALL THAT EMOTIONAL INTENSITY. Are you kidding me? You don’t do that for a game you don’t love. And he wasn’t quitting that for a car, a girlfriend, or a job.

And NOBODY QUITS FOOTBALL IN THEIR SENIOR YEAR!

(The girlfriend didn’t want him to quit, by the way. In fact, she’s in the band so she’s at every football game. It was Weston’s idea that he should quit and get a job so he’d have more money for dates.)

We finally made a deal. He’d play half the season. Five of the ten games. If it wasn’t fun, if he didn’t love it, if he still wanted to quit, THEN he could quit. And I gave him money for dates.

Five games went by.

And then another five games went by. He never mentioned quitting again.

This past Friday was the last game of the regular season. It was “Senior Night” in the fieldhouse before the game.

All the senior football players, managers, and cheerleaders. (Weston is third from the right, top row.)

They had a cute cake with little plastic footballs poked into the top with each senior’s name.

They let the parents take home their child’s little football. Five years of football, and that’s all I get! A tiny plastic football! What about my gold watch? What about my bonus points for not letting Weston quit–twice?!

Someone asked recently about college. Weston doesn’t intend to play football in college. He’s into football for the fun. The intensity of the money, media, and competition to make it into professional sports that is all wrapped up in college sports is of no appeal to him. High school is the end of football for him. (I would never push him to continue football in college. College football is altogether different from high school. I fully support his desire to go to college for college, not for football.)

Weston’s in this pile somewhere, and enjoying every second of it.

You know when they’re all crouched down like this, waiting for the play to start? I asked Weston what’s going on, if the players say anything to the opposite team.

He said “trash talking” is not allowed. It’s unsportsmanlike conduct. So he sings “I’m a Little Teapot” and “If You’re Happy and You Know It” to the other team. I said, “Does that make them think you’re scary-crazy?” And he said, “I don’t know. I’m too busy smashing their faces in after that to ask them.”

Football is such a sweet game.

Ironically, I just recently figured out football, which has made the last few games much more enjoyable.

It’s so much more exciting when you at least halfway understand what’s going on. (Amazing!)

They won Friday night against Ritchie County, 41-20.

They ended the final game of the regular season, long after everyone but parents had gone home, in the annual season-ending tradition of walking hand in hand, all the players and coaches, from one end of the field to the other and back again. In total silence. It’s a weird and awesome sight.

The Roane County Raiders won 8 out of 10 games in the regular season this year, setting a school record.

Playoffs start this week. And when the last ball is snapped, I shall retire forever as a football mom….

….and football photographer.

Football is a year-round commitment that is like no other, for both the kids and the parents. And while in so many ways, important ways, this is Weston’s accomplishment and Weston’s life, it is also–for every mother, and especially every single mother–my accomplishment and my life. For every minute behind the wheel, every long, cold night at the stadium, all the hours working the concession stand, every cleat sized at the shoe store and every dollar scraped together, every moment sitting in the car waiting after practices and standing shivering in the cold, cold night outside the fieldhouse after games, and, oh, for all those 1 a.m. pickups after away games, falling asleep while waiting for the lights of the team bus to appear over the hill, and for the times I pushed him through it, and most of all, for the times I pushed myself through it when I cried because I was so tired….

I am done!

P.S. And to the Roane County High School football coaches–you rock. Best, and most professional, school sports experience ever as a parent. Coaches matter, and the football coaches here are THE BEST. (Thank you to Head Coach Tom Hardman and his staff.)

*See playoff game #1: Nailbiter, and playoff game #2, The Last Football Game.

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Posted by Suzanne McMinn on November 8, 2010  

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Comments

31 Responses | RSS feed for comments on this post

  1. 11-8
    1:52
    am

    That was beautiful Suzanne. From one single mom to another, YOU rock!

  2. 11-8
    2:33
    am

    I know what you mean! My son has been playing basketball since 6th grade and we live in a more rural area in SD. In middle school, there aren’t buses – parents were the buses and we did some traveling to different games. Now he’s a senior and basketball starts in a few weeks although there were camps in the summer and workouts before and after school to get ready. It will be a bittersweet moment during this season’s parents’ night. There were times he wanted to quit and I told him the same thing – if it wasn’t fun or you weren’t enjoying it, then quit. Summer of ’09 he tore his calf muscle during a practice so last season was hard since it took so long to heal. He’s ready this year though!

  3. 11-8
    3:26
    am

    Yeah, single moms and kids activities can be hard on the mom.

    Nearest scout troop that wasn’t prejudiced against our religious beliefs was 130 mile round trip away (VERY rural area). On camp-out weekends it was 130 miles Thur, and Fri and Sat for meeting, camping and picking up. He did make Eagle scout just before his 18th birthday, but by the time he was awarded the rank a month later, it was bitter-sweet for me. Because by then he was making some REALLY poor decisions. Later it including quiting high school with 25 DAYS left in his SENIOR year. (way to go,dad!)

    I’m glad you kids have their heads on straight. And that their dad doesn’t seem to entice them into making bad decisions like my exhusband has done to my kids.

  4. 11-8
    6:01
    am

    :sun: WHAT A GREAT MOM YOU ARE!! I bet you wouldnt trade one memory!! Weston has grown into a very handsome young man. You must be so proud of him. I have a 18yr old son whom also played football and lacrosse. Three kids who played sports and now all are finished school. What I wouldnt do for one more day of sitting on those bleachers!! :)
    Granny Trace

  5. 11-8
    7:17
    am

    I never understood football… until I started dating a man whose son played high school ball and started attending the games. After marrying that man I got to attend lots of games. One day I told my stepson that I had figured out football. “It is the job of one guy to throw the ball really well, another guy’s job to catch that ball and run really well, and it is everybody else’s job to knock the other team down so that those two guys could do their jobs.” He laughed at me but said that was essentially correct. Being 6’4″, 270 pounds in his Senior year, he was one of those who knocked the other team down but I was always so pleased to see that he never hesitated to reach out a hand to help the other players up after the play. His high school coaches also emphasized sportsmanship and he remains very fair minded and gentlemanly. He played one year of football in college but discontinued for all the reasons you mentioned. Having stopped the weight training, at 27-y-o, he weighs a lot less now and I still understand the basics of football…but not much more than that :)

  6. 11-8
    7:22
    am

    Well, you’ll have to find a special place of honor for that little plastic football…but the memories, they are forever in your heart! All along the way he’s learned invaluable life skills and realized that no matter what, come hell or high water…Mom will be there! Good job Weston and Suzanne!

  7. 11-8
    8:29
    am

    That was a great tribute post to school football, to Weston’s growth, and to your commitment to your son. Hurray for Weston and for you and all the parents parked right along with you waiting in the freezing parking lot after midnight.

  8. 11-8
    8:56
    am

    Suzanne: you are a wonderful mother! You and Weston will have these memories forever! If/when Weston has a son, I’ll bet that child won’t be a “quitter” either. :)

  9. 11-8
    9:16
    am

    That you can say that about the coaches is the best part of this post to me.

  10. 11-8
    9:24
    am

    What a super post Suzanne!

  11. 11-8
    9:42
    am

    You know, if he goes to a smaller school, he could play football for fun and not ruin his academics or get into all the crap that accompanies college football at big schools. I went to a school of 1,700 students and the football players weren’t treated like gods the way they are at big universities (my brother went to Michigan State, so I know about that too!). They still had to get good grades and were still involved in other stuff at school. They just played football too. It was a lot like being in band (which I was) – you still did everything that everyone else did, but you had extra practices and concerts beyond that.

  12. 11-8
    9:44
    am

    Wow, Suzanne, that was Beautiful!
    I don’t even *like* football, and that was Beautiful!

    I’m glad he did it because it was fun, and NOT because of the “aspirations” of becoming rich (eventually).
    I’ve always thought football was kinda “stupid”, but looking at it through your eyes, as a sport where guys get together to work toward something because it’s fun, because of the camaraderie (sp?)… you help me to see it differently.

    And thank you to the coaches of Weston’s school, who apparently make it fun instead of pressure,pressure,pressure with the only importance being to “win”. It shouldn’t be that way, because it’s a GAME.
    Thanks!

  13. 11-8
    9:53
    am

    Loved the singing to the other team! lol

    As a former homeschool volleyball mom, I know what you mean. And, w/a homeschool team the parents to ALLLL the driving…well…actually the parents to ALLLL of EVERYTHING! There are no buses to take them anywhere…it’s the family vans & SUVs. But we have tons of team spirit & the JV & V teams both had winning seasons every year ~ they were awesome.

    Wait until your 1st couple of games as a visitor…that’s really weird. But you still root for your special team & the circle continues.

    I’m glad you enjoyed it.

    Blessings from Ohio…Kim~ :snoopy:

  14. 11-8
    9:53
    am

    Wonderful Suzanne! Brought me back to my daughters high school sports career! I have to ask though…WHERE DID THAT FACIAL HAIR COME FROM???? Oh my goodness, your baby boy looks like a man!

  15. 11-8
    10:01
    am

    :snoopy: Great post, Suzanne! That is a sweet,inspiring story. I will remember it when Maddy pulls the “I want to quit ….!” thing. What a nice tribute to you and him!! Hope they win the championships!! :) :woof: Please give him props for me. He must know the girls love football players! :) :sheep:

  16. 11-8
    10:16
    am

    Great post about your son. Personally football is not my thing. But, it’s great that you encouraged him to stay in it when he wanted to quit.

  17. 11-8
    10:22
    am

    Congrats to Weston and his team for making the state playoffs! Good Luck to them against Pt. Pleasant Friday night.

    I couldn’t believe how mature Weston looks in a couple of those pictures. He’s surely not your “little” boy anymore. He’s a very handsome young man.

    This was a great post. I was a show choir mom and took many road trips with my daughter and the ones I didn’t take I, too, had late nights at the school waiting for the bus to roll in. I wouldn’t have traded it for anything. My daughter won a couple of individual awards for her performances. I was so proud, just as you are of Weston. One of my proudest moments was when she was performing onstage at Magic Kingdom in Florida. It was something she will never forget and neither will I.

  18. 11-8
    10:55
    am

    No one could have written that so beautifully as you Suzanne! your a wonderful supportive mother, and when Weston looks back and remembers those day’s I am sure that he will feel so loved and supported by a wonderful Mother. :duck:

  19. 11-8
    11:04
    am

    Suzanne, I enjoyed this post as much as – probably MORE than – any other you’ve written. I love that you see the important things in life. Thanks for sharing with us.

  20. 11-8
    11:16
    am

    Wow! With tears in my eyes all I can say is what an inspirational story. Suzanne……you rock!

  21. 11-8
    12:51
    pm

    Beautiful, wonderful! I always find these kinds of “end of an era” milestones bittersweet. Sad, in a way, but exciting too! The future holds such amazing possibilities and the time always comes to move forward. That usually means leaving some things behind, but it’s always good. You are amazing, Suzanne! All the best to Weston, The Girlfriend (who sounds like a pretty amazing person herself!), and all of you! Looking forward to reading about the next “era!” :D

  22. 11-8
    1:04
    pm

    Beautiful post, Suzanne. I remember those days like they were yesterday. My kids are in their 30’s now, but we thought we would go out of our minds for a few years there, running from soccer to baseball to football to music programs, etc. But trust me, you will miss it. Now we do the same with our grandkids…well, not as much as their parents. We don’t go to all the practices, but we make sure that we’re there at the games and other school programs. All the best to Weston in the playoffs, and for much fun in his senior year.

  23. 11-8
    1:33
    pm

    Thank-you so much for this and all it conveyed – the pride, hard work and love you put into being a mom, the back stories I wasn’t aware of since I’ve only been following your blog this year, Weston’s journey into young adulthood. My son is homeschooled, so I don’t know if I’ll ever experience this, but there is so much I can take away from it to make me a better mother. Thank-you, again.

  24. 11-8
    5:11
    pm

    I’m cracking up over him singing “I’m a Little Teapot” at the other team!!!

  25. 11-8
    7:38
    pm

    I’ve been reading some back stories.. Ross and his push to get into the nuclear program, some others of Weston (none of Morgan — sorry Morgan! — but I have read many of you before!) and I have to say, your kids are blessed to have you as a mom. You also seem blessed with them as they all sound like they have their heads on straight and will do you proud.

    Also, I don’t know if it’s the start of the ‘season’ that is bringing forth the nostalgia in you, but you have been on a ROLLLLLL! It’s been wonderful going on these journeys with you the last few days!

  26. 11-8
    10:13
    pm

    This is a beautiful, touching, heartwarming post Suzanne. You had me with that first photo ~ it’s fantastic. :yes: :yes: :yes:

  27. 11-9
    9:26
    am

    Suzanne, this had me in tears. My nephew is graduating this year he also plays sports (football and baseball). This really hit home and had me in tears.

  28. 11-9
    10:40
    am

    I know that I have enjoyed the few times that I got to pick him up from practice and I would always have a bacon-cheeseburger from Wendy’s for him! (That’s what honorary aunts do – spoil them rotten.) Weston is a great kid and he will go far in life. I am glad to be part of his family!

    :heart:

  29. 11-9
    10:53
    am

    Suzanne, what a beautiful post. We are still at the beginning (I hope) of our football journey. My son is in 6th grade and is in his second year of football–he broke his foot at practice last week and we are home today while we wait to go to have it moved from a boot to a cast. I read him parts of your post and he says he is going to try “I’m a little teapot” from his position on the defensive line. :)

  30. 11-9
    1:16
    pm

    That was so beautifully told, Suzanne.

    Thank you very much. What a great son you have! What a great mom you are!

    A billion kudos to you all.

  31. 11-20
    8:50
    am

    Beautiful, just beautiful….this whole story about your boy becoming a man, just brings tears to my eyes! Thanks for sharing, mom, and for instilling those awesome American values into your son, he’ll be a great American!

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