Playing for The Top Spot

After three games, there remained two undefeated teams. It was time to play for first place. Subsequent to my weeks away, it would be an exciting game to return for. The morning began with learning directions to the field. We were playing at a high school that was unfamiliar to me. About an hour south of home. For the first time the weather appeared concerning. There were some areas of precipitation around the house. Looking through the weather forecast showed possible threatening skies around the school. So, the rain jacket was thrown into the car in case of a rainy day. The drive down to the game was filled with nervous excitement. It’s becoming clear driving to all games brings about feelings of anticipation. Traveling to this game was unique from the perspective of missing the week of practice. There was nothing providing a feeling of how the game might turn out.

When arriving, it was good to see everyone. Due to unfamiliar surroundings, it took a moment to become oriented and locate our team. After recognizing them behind the far end zone, it was a quick catch up with the coaches. It felt good to see everyone again. Then all the attention was turned to the kids. The time had come to begin getting the kids warmed up to play. As warm-ups continued we waited for a couple players to arrive. With game time approaching, mild concern set in, realizing we might be short a couple kids. The result would require some players in positions they hadn’t played before. More specifically, we were missing players along the offensive line. Since the offense is designed to run the ball, missing the linemen was crucial. It would seem difficult positions to pick up quickly. Luckily we have some smart players playing football.

It was fascinating to watch the transition to new positions. The conclusion was made, the players we needed to walk through the gate probably weren’t going to. So, the coaches made quick decisions. They picked a couple players to play the missing positions along the offensive line. If memory serves, in the end, we only required one of the two new players. As one of our late kids made it before game time. However, the process of preparing two kids from other positions to play along the offensive line proceeded. For me, it was astonishing to watch. There wasn’t much time for these kids to pick up blocking schemes they had never worked in practice. It was cool to witness the method of coaching and absorbing that took place. The whole situation seemed to happened quickly. In what felt like minutes, the players had our blocking schemes down. The coach was calling out plays for the line, resulting in blocking motions appearing seamless. It’s impressive how quickly these movements could be learned in crunch time.

My responsibilities during the game had changed while away. No longer was counting plays going to be part of my role. There was a feeling of relief, as managing the clipboard along the sideline was challenging. Part of the new task would harken back to my younger days. I was given a towel to place around my neck and a couple footballs to manage. Someone would run the balls into the game, I was to keep them dry on the sideline. It turned into a one-person job, by the end my towel was around another neck. There were still other tasks during the game. Another new responsibility was helping with the entering of offensive plays into the game. Along the sideline, coach calls the play and a couple assistants relay the call into our quarterback. Part of my differing role was to help with that process from time to time. The new part during game day has greatly minimized the impact of cerebral palsy. It has increased the ability to interact with players and better understand action on the field.

The game turned out to be a good battle. In the end our kids prevailed, but not without some fight. One of the unique things about football is coaching pretty far from the action. Along the sideline it’s tough to hear any chirping between players. It didn’t dawn on me until coach brought it up at halftime. Our opponent was doing a lot of talking during the game. Coach brought it up as something to be aware of. The subject seemed to fire up the players a bit, providing them positive motivation. The halftime adjustment followed and back onto the field went our players. Even at the conclusion of our game the talking was brought up. As both teams met in the bleachers for out post game meeting. The opposing coach seemed to snap at his kids for running their mouths. We had won the game comfortably, but the problem persisted.  While listening to the coaches talk at halftime and post-game on smack talking, surprise came to mind. It never occurred to me, these players would be verbally pushing each other around. The situation gave me moments pause, causing me to look at these game a little differently.

Growing into leadership can often be challenging. With opponents chirping while young men are learning only adds to this test. Often during our games a player is met with adversity to overcome. This day was not different and the intensity seemed to land on our quarterback. In such a leadership position, inside of a game for the top spot of the league, there would be no surprise of the weight upon his shoulders. But, like his teammates before, the pressure got to him a little. After throwing an interception his head hung down and the tears came to his eyes. However, there was no quit in the young man. It seems tears are a way many of us release frustration. For our quarterback, like many of our players throughout the year, it was no different, the tears released the frustration. He came over to the sideline, receiving the words he needed, and went back out on the field. His play continued with a refocused energy, helping lead this team the rest of the way. Yet another example of fighting through adversity and not giving up on yourself or your team. In the end, the continued fight resulted in a victory and gaining the top spot in our league. These kids continue to show surprising fight leaving me in admiration.

Even with the spotty forecast, the game weather was good. The only rain we felt was toward games end. At which point the towel was handed off. We played most the game under partly cloudy skies. The players excelled in a game full of pressure. Held their ground as football players, becoming the best team in our league. It was awesome to watch them handle the pressure. The intensity of the moment didn’t overwhelm these kids. They had been putting in the hard work since August. All of those practices had them bond together for these challenging situations. Whatever was said by the opponent wasn’t going to break the team they had built. With the top spot, the target arrived on our back. We became the team to beat. Now these players seemed required to accept the responsibility as they moved forward.

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