Having the opportunity to play for a championship seems rare. Sometimes athletes are placed in a fortunate situation, where playing for titles happens yearly. Other players may play an entire career without being involved in the playoffs. Our team fell under the fortunate category. At the ages of 8 and 9, they not only played in a playoff game, but moved on to the championship. We went into the championship with an undefeated record. It had been a great year, with only one game that truly tested our kids. The morning brought cold temperatures into the area. Looking outside, it appeared we would be playing under threatening skies. With temperatures in the 30s, our championship experience could involve snow. Luckily the game was scheduled to begin in the early afternoon, which could help with the cold. As with weeks past, the morning found me looking up directions to the stadium. We played at another unfamiliar high school in Everett. It was simplistic to find directions and even easier to find the stadium. There was a familiar exciting anxious feeling making the forty-five-minute drive. Who knows how many championship games will be a part of my life.
Upon arriving the team in purple was engrossed in warm-ups. Like other games, this one found me slightly behind schedule. The air was wintery cold and you could sense kids feeling the effects already. So, not long after arriving one of our coaches went about finding somewhere to acquire shelter. There was little reason to have players out in the elements longer than required that afternoon. Our head assistant found a solution to the weather challenger. After noticing our opponents jog off the field toward the warmth of a locker room, he set out to inquire about one for our team. He returned shortly with good news, we all filed around the grandstand and into the visitors locker-room. Once inside, the kids and coaches began to thaw and preparation for the game continued. We used the locker room to run through some new plays, making sure the kids understood them. After the plays were reviewed, we moved onto a couple new defensive sets from the week of practice. Before long, the week of practice was walked through. It was time to exit the warmth and play football.
Moving out of the locker room caused shock. It felt colder than when we walked in and a wintery mix was beginning to fall. The activity before we began play were different. Normally the teams would simply meet at center field, going over rules and having players shake hands. But, for the championship game festivities were added to enhance the experience for our kids. Before the game each player was introduced by name and number. We stood for the national anthem and began the game. During play they added announcements similar to a high school, college, or professional football game. After each play concluded, someone announced over the public-address system who carried the ball or caught the pass, and who made the tackle. It came to mind; just how cool it must have been for kids to hear their name called over the loud speaker. Not only that, but how neat it must have been for the parents to hear their child’s name called out. The whole thing added something special to the championship experience.
We began the championship game in light snow. It was another unique aspect of this game. One which would seem to add excitement for our players. The snowy weather also meant another role shift. My responsibility would shift back to helping keep the footballs dry. During the championship game two of us worked to provide dry footballs for our team. The help came from a brother of one of our players. He handled most of the hard work, running the footballs in and out of the game, and wiping them off between plays. Helping out wherever possible, the extra ball stayed dry under a towel around my neck. Running in and out of the game could have been complicated on that day. With a snowy mix, the field was slippery. Combining the slippery field with compromised balance resulting from cerebral palsy could have brought on an injured coach. The cold combined with my disability can make movements more difficult. It’s much easier in cold situations to be more limited and cautious in movements. So, it all brought about thankfulness in simply helping manage the football situation.
The championship game became a bummer quickly. Within the first quarter our team suffered a setback. We were driving inside the 10-yard line. About ready to go into the end zone for a score, when the ball was fumbled. Our opponent recovered and momentum seemed to shift. It could have been partially due to a wet and slippery football. The incident gave me moments pause. Happening early in the game, it caused a slight feeling of quilt for not having a dry ball into the quarterback. From that moment, our focus seemed to sharpen on managing the footballs. Many times, an early mistake can be recovered from, but instead things seemed to spiral downhill. Our team struggled with moving past those early disappointments. It was the first time we seemed to be shocked by an opponent all year.
Their defense appeared to have our number. It seemed every time we had the ball, we were under attack. Their defense was getting into our backfield with ease. The minute our quarterback handed off the football, the play was met head-on. Our plays were being stopped before many of them could get started. Those gaping holes and break out runs we have become accustom to seeing, simply were not taking place like before. Conversely, the team we played was running on our defense with ease. A defense which seemed to spend the year stopping teams in their tracks, had gotten lost. They experienced difficulty gather themselves and putting up a fight. To their credit, they didn’t give up, continuing the fight. It just seemed overwhelming at times. For the first time, it appeared the preparation from practice didn’t translate into the game. There isn’t any way to understand the overriding factor contributing to our performance. It could have been the cold weather, falling behind early, or the impact of a team who may have simply wanted to win more desperately. Whatever the reason, it was a new experience for us all.
Frustration seemed to mount as our championship game progressed. Many situations inside the game went in the opposite direction they had all year. The cold temperatures and snowfall appeared to add frustration. Overwhelming emotion took over as the game wore on. It began to sink in that mounting a comeback was improbable. Our attempt at winning the championship was unfolding before our eyes. The tears of frustration began pouring out of countless players. In the blink of an eye, the football season was approaching its sad conclusion. A wintery mix continued to fall, as our players shivered in disappointment. Losing the desire to take on anymore contact, because the cold caused it to hurt a little too much. The clock final reach zero, we shook hand with the victor, and the season vanished.
Hopefully our players will find many things to take with them from the game. They were introduced before play and recognized throughout for their play. We don’t get much snow in our area, so it could be the only time they play football it that wintery mix. Our team had an electrifying year, finishing the regular season with an undefeated record. They moved on by winning the first playoff game. Having the opportunity to play football under the lights and advancing to play for the championship. Our kids provided memories that won’t soon be forgotten. It was one of the most unique journeys of my life. I feel blessed to have been a part of it.