Our undefeated season would continue with a home game. It was my first-time coaching at the home field. Getting ready for the game this week didn’t require looking up directions. The home field of our team is the same field of my high school home games. I didn’t play football in high school, but spent my share of Friday night’s watching Woodinville High play football. Watching our kids play at Pop Keeney would be fun. We would be playing another good football team for the third week in a row. The opponent was the second-place team in our league. During the week leading up to this game, coach implemented a few new offensive plays. We were going to give this team a different offensive look from the prior opponents. The day greeted us with partly cloudy skies, but no sign of rain. It was getting later into October and crisp fall air had taken hold. Providing great weather to play football.
Arriving at Pop Keeney brought a slight feeling of surprise. They had redone the entire facility since my high school days. It feels appropriate to just skip on by when those high school days were. Let’s just say it was a while ago. Anyway, I’d seen the new Pop Keeney about a year ago from across the parking lot, but had yet to see the inside. The first noticeable thing was entering the stadium from the opposite side. Once inside it looked pretty awesome. There was still enough old left to bring back memories of youth. But, the new section seemed to breathe new life into the old facility. The home side looked the same with about 20 rows of stadium style covered seating. It looked smaller than I remember, but age can do that. When looking across the field there once was about 10 rows of aluminum uncovered bleachers. Today, it’s still about 10 rows, but the bleacher seats are covered with more of a stadium seating look. They also appeared to have a small press box on the visiting side. A concession building now stands with nice bathrooms and locker rooms have been built on each side of the visitor seating. It was awesome to see the remodel and feel the memories walking through the gate,
Once inside the gate, our team was beginning to gather. Parents and coaches were greeting each other, sharing quick conversation. Players were meandering around a bit, as our quarterback was run through a couple drills and some light throwing. The players were soon gathered and separated into two position groups. Coaches had them work on contact drills, getting their blood flowing. Once they were warmed-up, used to some contact, and in football mode, the pre-game preparation was moved out of field sight. We found an empty parking lot to continue getting ready for the game. As the game drew near, our warm-up was different. Because coach implemented new offensive sets, going over those new plays became the focus of our warm-up. There was repetition for the players to gain comfort with new movements. By the time preparation ended, you could see new plays coming together. We moved back down the steps from our vacant parking lot and on to the field. It was time to play.
Walking onto the field with our team brought many emotions. Having viewed the playing surface from the stands so often, made being on the field uncomfortable. The feeling of being watched filled me again. Insecurity of cerebral palsy came to mind, maybe because the field was close to the stands, or because I’ve had the fans viewpoint so many times. Once our team found their way onto the sideline, they were sent down to the far end zone to stay in motion. Our kicker was to practice his extra-point kicks, as teammates gathered to retrieve the ball. When a couple coaches began walking toward the end of the field to help players, something had me hesitate. My self-consciousness around moving differently had me hesitating to move out onto the middle of the field. It felt again like walking into a fishbowl, placing myself alone as I walked onto the field in plain sight of people behind in the stands. Even with the insecurity having me hesitate, the feeling of desire overwhelmed it, leading me to move out onto the field staying part of the action. Cerebral palsy can take its toll not just physically, but emotionally. Overcoming those small seeds of doubt only seems to add strength, making a similar situation slightly easier next time.
The game began with surprise. We started on defense and allowed a quick score. Before everyone could settle into their surroundings, our guys were down 8 to nothing. It was a shocking start from a normally stingy defense. Throughout the season, our defense has seemed to be the backbone of our success. Stopping teams in their tracks when the very thought of gaining momentum enters an opponent’s mind. That first drive caused concern in me, wondering if they had found something to exploit in our defense. Was there a hole we had become blind to? That thought had entered my mind during the prior week, when our opponent seemed to move the ball on us, hanging around until our defense made a stand. However, this week they scored that opening drive touchdown and never scored again. There wasn’t a hole in our defense. Once they gathered themselves, our opponent on this day had trouble even moving the ball. The offense took the ball and seemed to say, “anything you can do, we can do better.” We went down and scored on our first offensive possession, tying the score and never looked back. Our kids continued scoring throughout the game, winning going away.
Our offense put together an incredible game. The entire backfield playing impressively. Our running back bounced back from the prior week. Running with purpose and speed, while the new found full back was embracing his new role. Adding a component to the offense missing from before. With our multi-purpose back moving through running lanes using impactful motivation. As one of the best athlete on the field, he showed an extra gear that day. Our quarterback rounded out the performance by bouncing back from his interception a couple weeks prior. He completed two passes with a couple well thrown footballs. The undefeated season remained intact, with coach commenting on the impressiveness of the performance as we gathered following the game. One more win would complete an undefeated regular season.
It was an impressive win. Watching from the sideline brought feelings of fulfillment. Putting together a game, which succeeds in all areas is challenging to do. As an onlooker, it often takes time for me to understand what I’m seeing. Trying to hold back my opinion on things until substantial information has been gathered. Especially when taking part in something foreign like helping coach football. Getting my barring and understanding the intricacies of a football team seems important before making judgements. As time was ticking away on the game, I found myself standing next to my buddy. The friend who had brought me into the fold. After watching them play for two and a half months it had become clear. Finally, reality set in and I said, “These guys are good!”