Sunday, October 21, 2012

Homecoming of The Boys of Fall

When I feel that chill, smell that fresh cut grass
I'm back in my helmet, cleats, and shoulder pads
Standin' in the huddle listenin' to the call
Fans goin' crazy for the boys of fall

They didn't let just anybody in that club
Took every ounce of heart and sweat and blood
To get to wear those game day jerseys down the hall
The kings of the school, man, we're the boys of fall

Well it's, turn and face the stars and stripes
It's fightin' back them butterflies
It's call it in the air alright yes sir we want the ball
And it's knockin' heads and talkin' trash
It's slingin' mud and dirt and grass
It's I got your number, I got your back
When your back's against the wall
You mess with one man, you got us all
The boys of fall

A few years ago Carter came to us and said he wanted to play football. I quickly recalled my middle school days at St. Angela's playing flag and pictured a field covered with nice catholic boys wearing matching shorts and t-shirts. "Not that kind of football,” he said. "I want to play real football, the kind where you wear helmets and actually tackle kids." I wasn't so sure Carter was ready for the roughness of football, but since competitive chess was not an option I agreed.

A few enjoyable years of Pop Warner at Marsh Creek were followed by a year of middle school football and a year of Freshman football. Freshman football at Carter's high school means only freshman play (no bigger kids sneaking in) and all of them stay safely clear of the man-child players who could be seen frequenting the varsity field. Freshman football was controlled, designed for fun, organized for learning, and a testing ground for the big time. Lots of boys play Freshman ball for those very reasons. However, when the idea of graduating to JV to play scout team vs. boys that weigh 250 pounds and squat 3-4 times your weight enters their minds, they decide to pursue their passion in one of the many other sports the school has to offer. Not Carter. He loved it too much.

As a sophomore at D East, unless you are a stellar player, you play JV.  You practice with the varsity, act as scout team, and play games on Monday afternoons. For those that don’t know, scout team means you run the opponent's offense and defense against a fired up varsity team who goes full force. This is not flag football or even rough touch; it is tackle football with a vengeance. As a tight end or linebacker, Carter frequently found himself eye to eye with his varsity counterparts who only saw the opponent’s jersey and held a desire to prove to his coaches that he was ready for Friday night lights. Scout team brings no glory, but is a rite of passage for each player. There is no sympathy from the older kids, but for those who play their part there is one thing more important...respect.

Most evenings I pick up Carter from school about eleven hours after he's left in the morning. The somewhat quiet, non-morning boy who left the house with combed hair, pressed shirts, and lunch in hand is not the same one I pick up in the evening. The one standing outside the locker room is donned in filthy practice pants, a soaked shirt, tussled hair, and a giant smile. After he drops his bags in the car, flops into seat, and asks what's for dinner, I ask about practice. He always starts with the story of that day's scout team. He would talk of how he caught a pass and one kid "destroyed him" and how he tried to tackle another and "took him down".  The details go on and on.  While we live five minutes from school, on those evenings I wish we could drive for hours. There are few things better than listening to your son as he is maturing right in front of you.

During the high school football season, few things are more important or more exciting than Homecoming week. This is the time when alumni return to the stands and former players walk the sidelines with their teammates. It is a time when the school and its town come together around a football field to celebrate the fall and reinforce tradition.  During this week, the seniors nominate girls to the Homecoming Court and then choose a Queen.  Rather unexpectedly Emma said, “I’d like to be on the Homecoming Court”.  She ran, was nominated and we were excited for her. 

Homecoming week started with the Homecoming game itself. This year our high school team is doing quite well, so by half time the game was under control, but there was still electricity in the air. It was time for the Homecoming Court to be escorted across the field.  When the girls and their escorts lined up I could faintly see Emma until her name was announced.  There she was, walking with her head high, confidence in her eyes, and a giant smile on her face. I was in the stands with my camera flashing and wondering how lucky I was to see both my son and daughter on the same field that special night.

Our team went on to win the game and the rest of Homecoming week was underway. Our kids had a great time at the dance, the annual bonfire, and the pep rally. As a member of the Homecoming Court, Emma participated in the bonfire and pep rally helping to lead the school in cheers.  They didn’t allow this old guy to attend, but according to Emma and Carter, it was awesome.

Last Friday night Homecoming week came to a close with the annual rivalry game of D East (us) vs. D West.  We arrived extra early, grabbed our seats, and watched the crowd of 7,000 slowly assemble. The action started fast with 14 points for D East followed by a fast 14 for D West.  As the game continued we saw lightning off in the distance and rumblings that it was headed our way.  As the second quarter rolled into the third, D East extended their lead, and the weather continued to roll. 

At the end of the third quarter a delay was called. No matter how much everyone wanted the game to continue, safety was key so the stands were cleared and people headed to their cars. While others lined up to head home, we just couldn’t. We had hope the game would somehow continue and wanted to be there rooting on our son if it did.  Suddenly, we heard they were playing and raced back in time to watch the last few minutes with a small crowd of students and parents.  Standing in the rain and listening to the kids celebrate by singing the song "Hey Baby" seemed like the perfect ending to a perfect week.  But, it appeared I had missed a bit of magic.

When we got home Carter told us that after the decision was taken to restart the game, the teams walked out of the locker rooms and onto the field in silence.  Since the security staff had cleared everyone from the stadium, all 7,000 were gone. With nothing but the sound of rain droplets against helmets to break the silence, the boys walked out as one.  All season long their coach had preached the importance of their team as family and due to a strange set of circumstances, here they were during one of the biggest games, alone but together as brothers.  Everyone they needed was there.

While the symbolism of that moment may play more to me than others, I just love that moment.  Just as our family and many others have faced the silence of the unexpected, but rallied together, these boys did the same.  It did not matter that the boys came from different backgrounds or different faiths, when it was necessary, they stood together.  Nothing had to be said because they already knew that despite the challenge...

It's I got your number, I got your back
When your back's against the wall
You mess with one man, you got us all
The boys of fall

1, 2, 3...FAMILY!

Credit to: Kenny Chesney, "The Boys of Fall"

If you haven’t had the opportunity to see "The Boys of Fall" video, I recommend you spend a few minutes and check it out the following link.  With a little luck, it may leave you with the same level of inspiration it left me.

Here are a few pictures of Homecoming which we hope you’ll enjoy.

 Carter #38:

 Emma walking across the field

 One proud girl

The Boys of Fall ... Post Game Celebration