Susan Vollenweider - Life lessons from the bleachers

10/15/2013 12:00 AM

10/14/2013 10:55 AM

Let me be perfectly honest: I don’t care for football.

When I got married 22 years ago I knew I was yoking myself to a football fan. I smiled every Sunday as he watched the never-ending game. (He later explained that it was a succession of games, not just one.) I didn’t have to pay attention, I didn’t have to take it seriously — it was my husband’s thing.

But now that my son plays high school football? It’s no yoking matter.

Long before I wed, my post-college roommate and I won a radio station letter writing contest. The theme: football. My roommate, a true fan, carried on about the game itself. I contributed quips about how the attractive the players looked and the communal camaraderie of watching a game.

Strapping men in tight pants and fellowship over seven-layer dip was all that I cared about then, and just eliminate the “strapping men” part now because that is my kid out there…and ew.

We are almost to the end of Luke’s freshman football season. He had played for the middle school team but began working out with the high school players last spring. Over the summer he conditioned and did camp with them. He joined the team.

“Is that a coach?” I asked as he waved to a guy in the parking lot after I picked him up one hot August day.

“No, Mom, that’s a sophomore and he knocked me on my butt in a drill today. It was awesome!”

Stunned. My sweet baby boy was getting knocked around by that tree sized man-teen? He liked it? I tried to be brave and unrolled the window for ventilation, maybe “sweet” wasn’t the right word.

Summer’s football preparation morphed into after-school practices and scrimmages.

And then it was time for games.

Real games against real teams full of really big guys who simply wanted to win.

My son was very excited. He held up his new team jersey with pride as I snapped a picture. He was ready. His dad was ready. I was a wreck.

I have been going to high school football games for a few years now, mostly to cheer on my marching band daughter. (Goooo flutes!) While I waited for the half-time show, I would simultaneously marvel at the community turnout while cringing as players got knocked down. Any player, any team. I play for Team Mom and those boys getting crunched were someone’s kids.

But Luke’s freshmen team games lack the marching band, the cheerleaders and the community spirit. Don’t think Friday Night Lights; think Monday Afternoon Sun. But I clapped when I was supposed to clap, yelled “FIRST DOWN” when I was supposed to yell. I tried to smile each time that one parent screeched “HIT SOMEONE!”

With each game, as the boys improved I worked at relaxing. I didn’t succeed. Even this past Monday, as that horrid cuuuurrrrunch sound traveled to the bleachers from the field, I must have gasped out loud (or maybe it was the sight of me curled into a ball) because a friendly voice behind me said, “It’s the pads, Susan. The


hitting each other makes that noise.”

The Hit Someone family has moved away and the season is coming to an end. I may not care for the game, but I am continuing my journey toward appreciating it — not because of what happens on the field, though. I appreciate it each time my son applies sports concepts to the rest of his life. Team work. Dedication. Perseverance. Getting knocked down and jumping back up ready to try again.

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