For the first 40 years of my life, I loathed football. My mother and father loved it, and would spend Saturdays, Sundays and Monday nights engrossed in college and pro games. My mother would jump up and down and scream when their team, The Cowboys, did something awesome, and so would my dad, until he became too obese to get up quickly. Then he would just shout "ATTABOYS!!!" without the jumping.
In the farmhouse where I spent most of my formative years, our TV room was right next to our den, where the piano was. Maybe I hated football so much because when I would try to practice the piano, it would inevitably be during a game, and my father would often yell, not knowing exactly which of his three girls were practicing, "Shut the he-e-e-e-e-ll u-u-u-u-u-p! We're trying to watch the game!" I would angrily storm out of the room, thinking how ridiculous it was that I had to put my piano progression on hold just so he could watch a stupid football game. My mother highly disagreed with how he dealt with our piano practicing, as she faithfully drove us to our piano lesson each Wednesday even though our teacher lived 30 minutes away, but no amount of talking to would ever change my father. That fact, was, in fact, one of the most congruent lessons he ever taught us verbally, and through example; that we should never try to change a man, because it doesn't work.
My father always told me that I didn't like football because I didn't understand it. How could I not understand it? He had been explaining to me since I could understand words, in the hopes, I'm sure, that we would all be one happy, football-watching family. I later came to realize that part of what he said was true. Although I understood the rules, I would only realize when I was 20 years old that I was near-sighted, and could never see the ball on the small screen my father had. Thus, I never knew what was going on, just that it was something good when my parents started screaming.
As a note, perhaps my previous remarks sound disparaging of my father, but please know that although we had a troubled relationship as I was going through my teens, he became one of my favorite people in the world as I grew up and started raising a family of my own. I still considered him certifiable until he died, but I always loved him and still miss him terribly. You can read more about him HERE.
Anyways, eventually my own sons started growing up. Football wasn't really a part of their lives, as neither of my husbands were huge fans, but things changed once John and I decided to move to Mexico. In this tiny Mormon/American farming community, high school football is everything, and I knew my oldest son would benefit in many ways by being on the team. Plus, I knew the coach personally, a cousin of mine, and that his number one goal was to help prepare these high school boys for the two-year-missions they would serve The Lord directly out of high school, should they accept that call. I felt strongly that the key to getting my son on his mission, as there were many influences pulling him away from this path, was for him to be on Coach Kortny's team.
As we waited for our the construction on our home to be completed, we spent two years on the border town where I was raised, where the then 14-year-old boy (who is now the 20-year-old boy) started high school after nine years of home school. I suggested to him that he should try out for the football team because then, when we moved to Mexico, he would already have a year of experience and feel much more comfortable on Coach Kortny's team. He replied that he really wasn't interested in playing football. I was devastated. I knew that it would be very difficult to make a high school freshman play if he didn't want to, so I had no idea what to do. So I just prayed... a lot.
During registration, as we were walking the campus finding all of his classes, we ran into one of his new teachers. As we started talking, he announced that he was the football coach and that my son looked like he could play. I believe the 14-year-old boy was quite flattered. When I had a moment, I pulled the coach aside and told him how important it was for me that my son be encouraged to try out, and he said he would work on him.
That night, the 14-year-old boy came home and said that his new coach's name was Charlie Brown, that he was really cool and that he was a Mormon. I immediately got a huge lump in my throat and couldn't speak for a long time. I just nodded and smiled and acted like it was no big deal that now he had decided to be on the football team and that my weeks of prayers had been answered.
So he joined the team, and played and seemed to enjoy it, but when we moved down to Mexico, he again expressed disinterest in joining the team. I knew it would be even more difficult to convince a high school sophomore to join the team than I thought it was to convince a freshman, so this time I tried reasoning and soft-speaking, and eventually, I said, "Well, it's up to you, Son." That year, some how, some way, the Lord answered my prayers again, and he joined the Lobos football team.
(Shown here during his junior year, number 78, photo courtesy of Shauna Nielsen)
He stayed on the team until he graduated. The practices were grueling, and many times he talked about not doing it again the next year, saying they hardly ever won anyways, but for some reason, without any more encouragement from me, he kept with it. We went to all of his home games, and many of his out of town games. I still hated watching football, I think even more so then than ever before, because I don't think I ever saw any of the plays my son made. We were wrestling his eight younger siblings on dangerous bleachers, in blazing or frigid temperatures, the misery culminating during the year our twins started running about uncontrollably and we had an infant in tow.
But it was all worth it when my son sent a letter home from his mission a few months after he left. I've tried to find it among the scores that he sent, so I could quote it word for word, but I haven't been able to. In it, he stated that Coach was a huge motivating factor in his decision to go on a mission, and if it wasn't for him, he might not be there... and for us to let coach know that he felt that way. This letter brought many tears of joy to my eyes, and since Coach had already requested to be placed on my son's mailing list, and was receiving his letters each week, I knew this one would have very special meaning.
On to the next son, the 16-year-old boy. After watching his brother play for many years, there was no stopping him. He wanted to be on the team, no question about it. Before his first game, he asked if I would take pictures of him. I said sure. I remembered how much my oldest son enjoyed the photos his best friend's mom took of the team, and since she didn't have anyone playing with the 16-year-old boy that year, the job would be left to someone else.
So I stood on the sidelines and did the best I could. I'd never done sports photography, only stuff for my blog, but when I looked at the pictures, I realized that it was probably more fun than any other type of photography. I never knew what I would find as a went through hundreds of pictures of fast-moving action. Editing and posting them to facebook was even more fun, because the kids, parents and coaches gave such great feedback on the photos and expressed so much appreciation. So, eventually, I became the unofficial team photographer.
I now look so forward to each game! Not only do I understand the game, which I always have, I can see the ball! And not only can I see the ball, I always have to know where it is so I can get the best shot. And not only do I have to know where it is, it is possible for me to know where it is because my dearest, finest, most sacrificing husband is always in the bleachers taking care of the four rowdy little boys alone. I am so grateful to him every week as we arrive to the field and start to get all the kids set up and he says, "Go take your pictures, Jen. I've got the kids."
And what has the 16-year-old boy learned? Since he started playing two years ago, I have seen a vast difference in him. He is more responsible, more goal-oriented, more driven and more confident. We don't have Coach Kortny anymore, but Coach Brandon (another cousin of mine) is instilling valuable lessons in his players that will carry them through their adult years. Among some of the natural schooling is the refining lesson of failure, such as when there were eleven seconds left in the game, and the 16-year-old boy was told to run into the end-zone for the winning pass. He did, but just before the ball hit his hands, an opposing player jumped out of seemingly nowhere and snatched an interception. I think he blamed himself for losing the game.
(The 16-year-old boy, number 84, with the protective and compassionate arm of one of his best friends around him, only minutes after the interception. He openly cried as he walked off the field, although all of his coaches tried to comfort him.)
And there was the time when he missed a block and an ill-advised player for the opposing team apparently purposely drove his helmet into the quarterback's knee, causing him to later undergo surgery....
He still stands on the sideline leaning on a cane, but he's improving every day. The 16-year-old boy blamed himself for this, but I explained to him that sometimes things like that happen in games such as this. It's a dangerous sport and you're not always going to be able to make the play you hope for. I hope he has forgiven himself.
Ah, but then there are the joys of winning. The 16-year-old boy comes home elated each week they win, which has been five of the seven games they've played. And then there was his first interception, which came last week.....
I can't get over his happy faces....
Next in line is the 12-year-old boy. He's currently one of the water boys, and he spends more time on the field than the players do, carrying large plastic boxes and doing other things that take a lot of time.....
Judging by his game face, he's going to make an awesome addition.
So yes, the practice hours are long, leaving little time for anything else, the trips are expensive, and the injuries many of the players sustain are frightening, but to me, Fútbol Americano is all worth it. A huge thanks to all of the coaches and others who devote so much volunteer time to these young men. You are doing great things. Love you, Cousins!
Thanks for listening. :)