It was the first weekend in August. My week had been one of the most challenging in some time and I wanted to disappear. Not on any kind of adventure, but somewhere that felt safe. A place where I could let my mind rest from a spinning life. I decided on a road trip to Corvallis. A town I knew very well from my years in college. But, also from the countless football games I had attended since graduating. There would be exceptional familiarity to being in the town. The hotel would be the same, I knew all the options for things to eat, and I could navigate the town easily. For me, it set up to be the ideal escape. I left home without any perspective on the time of year. It never occurred to me the football team would be preparing for the season. They were a mere four weeks away from the first game of their season. Until I sat on campus Friday morning, in the middle of having my coffee, did I think of taking a walk to the practice field. There was also the renovation of the football stadium to view. They were working on rebuilding the west side of the stadium. With the east side, having been updated years before. The completion of the stadium was set for the fall of 2023. There was more to see in Corvallis than I thought when escaping to the town on Thursday.
I have always been a sports fan. Through the years, my interest in sports has only grown. Today, watching athletic competition has become part of my emotional health. My interested doesn’t only pertain to football. Most sports have been relatively easy for me to enjoy all my life. Pick a season of the year and I’m engaged with its corresponding sport. For me, there has always been an awe associated with an athlete. Really, an athlete of any age and ability level. Cerebral palsy has limited my body out of organized athletic competition with my typically developed peers. Leaving me in amazement at the coordination involved. At times, leaving me to look at athletes as being completely different from me, I can’t relate. Which, might be similar to my feeling about typically developed adults. While, I might have things in common with the person next to me, there are inevitably physical aspects to which I can’t relate. So, when I stood and watched the football players jog from their locker-room onto the practice field, I felt chills. They were big and athletic to a degree I rarely stand that close to. I was probably 50-feet away from the path they were taking to enter the field. My view of them jogging the short distance across the drive was narrow. The sidewalk I stood on was lined with trees and the fenced in practice field. Leaving me only a momentary glimpse of the players.
Looking onto the actual practice field was a little more complex. There were two fields sitting next to one another. Anchored to my left and right with large buildings. On my left side was the team indoor practice facility. While, on my right was a large building of some sort for the student athletes at Oregon State. The other two side of the practice fields were lined with a black fence. The fence was probably around seven feet in height. There was a sheet like barrier running along the fence on each side. It covered about five feet of the fence. Leaving gaps on the top and the bottom. However, the base of the fence had plants running along the lower half. Looking like a hedge in the making and disrupting the ability to see through the bottom side. While, the fencing on the far side, opposite of where I was standing that first morning, had about a two-foot tall ledge to block a view through the lower portion of fence. But, there was an unobstructed gap to see through just above the black fence lining. It required me extending onto my tip-toes and standing as tall as possible. I did this only a couple of times, because the black mesh along the fences did allow some visibility. The best of the pictures I took were from holding my camera phone above my head. Finding the gap in the top of the fence, to capture the moment. I wanted to drink in as much of the atmosphere as possible. Everywhere I looked gave me something exciting to witness. The complexity of a division-1 college football practice was incredible.
I have seen pictures of football practice on television for much of my life. SportsCenter will do live reports from a college or NFL football practice. Providing small camera shots of players working out, or practice being filmed from high above the field. But, I never thought about seeing those images in person. As the players crossed into the practice field, they did so sporadically. A couple would jog over together, but for the most part it was one guy at a time. It probably took a good half-hour for them all to gather on the field. While the players were casually making their way over, I continued looking around, wanting to see everything. The camera people where each elevated in a cherry-picker, for lack of a better term. Situated on their platform with video camera on tri-pod. Ready to shoot film of the practice activity going on in their section. I saw four of these towers situated around the outdoor facility, ready for action. Looking up and down the short sidewalk I stood on, there was security personal. One person was meandering up and down the fence line. As the morning wore on, a couple campus safety trucks showed up outside the entrance to the practice field. All of this occurring after I had snapped a couple pictures. Leaving me slightly nervous, pondering, maybe I wasn’t entirely welcome to be standing there.
With the feeling of curious eyes all around, I walked back toward the bookstore. Still, not quite ready to leave behind to cool pictures in my view. I walked past the cutout of the fence where I watched the players entering not long before. The gate was wide open and the field could be seen unobstructed. However, there was a gentleman sitting on a folding chair, to one side of the gate. Peering directly at me, as I was walking past the opening, and glancing inside. His look didn’t exactly encourage me to stop and take an unobstructed view of practice. A little secret about my body with cerebral palsy, if I feel any kind of elevated emotion, my left hand will often twitch uncontrollably. As I walked past that man, sitting at the gate, my body was filled with energy. Excitement, nervousness, overwhelmed with awe at the prospect of seeing all of this in person. My left hand was moving uncontrollably and for a man charged with protecting these athletes, he looked me up and down. I understood, but the moment did amplify my uncertainty. It would have been great to control my curiosity enough in the moment to keep walking. But, I spotted a gap in the black mesh, running the vertical length of the fence, and had to stop. The separation provided a kind of peep hole onto the field. I stood there for a few more minutes and watched them practice.
As I stood from my position, looking through the sliver in the fence. I looked to my right and saw the Oregon State, men’s basketball coach standing a few feet ahead. He was talking with one of the security personal with one of his assistant coaches alongside. My breath caught momentarily from being in such close proximity. It was clear to me from that moment, I had experienced enough stimulus for the day. Taking the time for one more glance at practice, I walked off away, from the field. The day had been excitingly unexpected. Having the opportunity to watch the Beavers in their preparation for the upcoming season. I have been consistently traveling to football games for a couple years now. But, have been a lifelong fan of all Oregon State athletics. Watching them for the limited time gave me no indication of how good they might be this year. Part of my excitement in September is getting a feel for the kind of season they might have. We are just a couple weeks away from the first action from the team I watched. As the years goes on, I’m sure the memories of this trip will surface. Though, I had no recognition with the players I saw that day. There was so much amazement inside, their numbers couldn’t be committed to memory. I get more excited for college football to start, with each passing day.