My boy made a championship style tackle tonight. And then he made another. Practice over, he climbed into my car, smelling of goats and sunshine. Then, he burst into tears. I couldn’t get him to lay a finger on his sadness, so at odds with my pride, as he shook with the effort of controlling his emotions. My small mancub, wearing polyester pads and shocking orange Nike cleats, finally was able to speak.
The damn broke, secrets spilled. His old friends told him he was fat. They told him he was slow. They told him he would never make his dream of becoming a defensive end come true. His old teammates, bent on grandstanding and every man for himself, beat each other down.
He told me that last year, when he walked onto the field, he walked without a shield of confidence and swagger. He walked with shame, and with a thousand “can’t’s” ringing in his ears, willing the game to be over before it began. Last season, champions were not made. Whether it be a lack of coaching skill, or a bad combination of players, feelings were hurt and young men shamed each other.
But last night, at practice, my freckled number 42 got the courage to ask the coach to allow him to play his most coveted position. He convinced the coach of his passion, and he got a shot. That one chance was all he needed. My boy got his time to shine.
I don’t know if Coach P will ever understand what he gave to a young man who only wanted to try. He gave him the opportunity to learn what it feels like to walk off a field a winner, aware of his abilities. Most of all, there was a feeling of pride, of long lost things being returned.
The first time a child learns they are capable of things they previously were told impossible, magic comes alive. It came alive on a middle school football field, on a hot August night full of promise.