This week was our final regular season game. It turns out we have two home fields. We played our final game on the high school campus. It’s a brand new school in the area. The high school team plays their home games at Pop Keeney, where we played the previous week. Finding directions to the school was relatively easy. However, following those directions proved slightly challenging leading to a couple missteps. Showing up to the high school behind schedule, I navigated through the unfamiliar campus. Walking past unrecognized buildings in search of the football field, a voice called after me from behind a door. It was a door leading into the cafeteria where our kids began their warm-up. The cold had taken hold outside and rain was threatening, so going over some plays in a warm and dry environment was advantagous. We were all far more bundled up than we had been for games before. After running a few more plays, the kids began slipping on the cafeteria flooring, so we moved out onto the field.
In our final week of the regular season we would play a weaker team. We had the best record going into the game, while our opponent had the worst. To that point, they hadn’t experienced a win. A victory for our players would complete an undefeated regular season. The week leading up to the game brought the worst weather of the fall. With consistent rain and wind during the latter, we missed two practices heading into our game. It leads to mild concern about the game not being taken seriously. Our kids could overlook this opponent simply by looking at their record. See nothing in the win column of the opposition could cause a team to feel they don’t really need to show up. It becomes part of the challenge of coaching. How to motivate youngsters against a much lesser skilled opponent?
The high school is brand new this year. Walking from the parking lot through campus was impressive. When I was stopped to join the team in the cafeteria, part of me wanted to continue the mini tour of North Creek High School. Meandering through campus hadn’t brought me to the sporting facilities yet. So, walking out of the cafeteria was leading us onto the football felid. For the high school team, it is a practice field, as their home games are played elsewhere. But, for our players this was home. The first noticeable thing about the football facility on campus was the playing surface. It seems rare to have the opportunity to play on new field turf. The surface hasn’t experienced a year of wear to this point and it was noticeable. It was the best field I’ve ever set foot on. There was a small set of bleaches set up about ten feet above the turf level with ten rows of seats. A track ran around the outside of the football field. It was the smallest venue we’ve played in this year, but appeared like it was going to be a fun place to play.
As we walked onto the football field, warm-ups continued for our players. A new role was given to me for this game. It appeared the rain might begin during the game. If rain became a part of our lives, the ball boy responsibility would be placed upon my shoulders. We had an extra game ball and large towel for me to keep the footballs dry. Sure enough, the rain started before play began, having me run back to my car in pursuit of a hat. With my dome protected from water, I placed the towel around my neck, poised to provide our quarterback with a manageable football. Thankfully there was help with this task. A follow coach held and umbrella throughout the game. Under his arm, he kept one game ball completely shielded from the weather. We created a successful rotation going. As the football came off the field, it would be dried by me and replaced by the football under my fellow coach’s umbrella. Once the ball in my possession was toweled off, it went under the umbrella. For our first game in the rain, we seemed to be doing well.
Managing the football rotation during this game had me relinquishing other roles. Cerebral palsy seems to take hold when trying to multitask. Because my disability is most prevalent in the hands, it’s difficult to hold and manipulate multiple things. Helping send in plays by flipping a card was going to be difficult to manage. I couldn’t come up with a process for working with the double-sided card to signal the quarterback in one hand and keeping a football dry in the other. So, keeping the footballs dry took priority, as I handed the place card back to my buddy who could take on the additional task. With both hands free of other responsibilities, the wet footballs were wrapped in the towel resting around my neck. It must have appeared I was walking around with a watermelon wrapped in something white. But, whatever the process we had working, for the most part, our team had relatively dry footballs to work with.
The game itself was without stress. Any concern of the kids taking this opponent lightly was put to rest early. The defense played an exceptional game. They didn’t allow any points. While our offense hummed like a well-oiled engine. It was the game which I paid the least amount of attention to the plays. Most of my focus was on keeping track of the footballs. The sideline was the most relaxed it had been all year. Players and coaches seemed to be enjoying the absence of intensity, as the game was in hand early. There was substantially more laughter going on as the game progressed. Our back-up quarterback took a couple snaps, as other players seemed to try different positions. All the good vibes helped ease the reality of being soaked by continuous rain. By the end, we were all pretty soaked, but satisfied with our comfortable victory.
The victory ended our regular season with an undefeated record. It has been an interesting year full of twists and turns. No unblemished record is achieved without overcoming challenges. The players have each grown in their ability. They seemed to have improved their ability to work together, while becoming more reliant on each other. If a team fails to grow closer, it often shows up in the overall record. They say comradery is made easier by winning, and though that may be true, it’s still not without struggle. We’ve witnessed these kids pick on each other and bully one another. But, through it all coach has firmly imparted a team first attitude, encouraging the players to come together despite differences. It has led to the completion of our first goal of being the best in our league. Now, we move into the playoffs and onto our final goal of winning a championship.