BALANCING ACT:   Spring ball - heartbreaking and hopeful

Staff writer

The words “spring ball” fill me with hope, anticipation, high expectations, and excitement. However, as a parent of two college football players at or near the end of their playing careers, the words spring ball now have a bittersweet connotation.

Our last spring football game on Saturday brought about a harsh reality we would rather not have experienced.

Our second son will be a senior in college this fall. He has certainly paid his dues in football, surviving team crisis after team crisis, always hanging on with the thought that someday it will be “my” time.

I thought his time was this spring. He had phenomenal spring football practices this year, running the 40 in 4.44, setting a shuffle time of 4.2, just milliseconds of his school’s record. His strength was at an all-time high, his body primed and ready, his enthusiasm bubbling below the surface ready to explode into action. As a running back he was scoring, he was leading the team offense, he had a coach that believed in him and he was having fun! Nothing makes a parent happier than seeing their children in the right place, at the right time, and having fun.

How heartbreaking it was then, to see him gingerly step along the sideline and shuck off the spring ball game pads and helmet before the game even started, to stand shivering in the cold wind.

The price he paid this time for all that readiness — a broken bone in his foot. It happened at the laid-back walk-through just the evening before, starting as a little twinge in his foot. By bedtime, his foot was sore but he figured it was just a muscle-spasm or something. By 3 a.m. pain shot through his leg and foot. By 7 a.m., he could not walk across his room.

Still, he donned playing gear and tried to hobble out to the field, knowing how much his mom and dad wanted to see him play.

Spring ball was more than bittersweet for our family this year; it was downright heartbreaking. I could not believe that yet again, we were facing another injury, another waiting period to see when and if the pieces would ever come together for my son.

Will there ever be a time when our boys have the right coach, are physically healthy, and can put the toil and trouble of the previous years behind them? I hope. In my heart beats the ever present belief that yes, there will be a better time, a better place, and a perfect football game.

The problem is that it is almost over. The wonderful, painful, exhilarating years we have spent watching our older boys compete in football are almost done. My older son has faced the reality that his eligibility for the roughest, toughest, funnest game of all time is over — he graduates in May. My second son is on the verge of what we hope will be a sensational senior season. Together they have provided their parents with more than 12 years of football fun, from those early flag football years, to the thrill and excitement of high school playoffs, and now the expanded world of college football.

It has been fun, but it has not been easy. We have always known our boys were talented. They had everything it took to be great — skills, talent, dedication, speed, strength of mind and body — but there have always been the uncontrollable aspects of an aggressive team game that created frustrations.

The past five years of our involvement in college football have opened my eyes to how important it is to have a head coach and a coaching staff with integrity, discipline, and a positive attitude.

A coach can make or break a team, simple as that. Sadly, I have seen a lot of breakage over the past several years, but similar to building muscle, I have seen strength of character and resiliency emerge in my sons that might never have happened had they had those “good” coaches one often only dreams about.

I am just not sure we, as parents, can ever fully recover from seeing our hard-working sons put through a wringer not of their making.

More painful than watching coaching-induced difficulties however, is being a part of that continual struggle to overcome injuries from the game.

Our family has been through the wringer on that one too — two torn Achilles tendons with surgeries and rehabilitations, pulled hamstring, severely sprained ankle, broken fingers, broken thumbs, concussions, cracked ribs — is all this misery worth it?

It is hard to say because the final chapter on our football years has yet to be written. I do know my sons have had access to fine educational opportunities because of football scholarships, something they might not have been able to afford without their hard work on the field.

I do know I have experienced a wide swing of emotions that I would never have otherwise encountered had it not been for football. Is that a good thing? I am not sure about that either.

I know that football, and looking forward to football games, has given my husband and I something to look forward to, an escape from the harsh realities of life, at times when there was not much else to hang on to.

How silly for us to place so much importance on a game. I feel so lucky to know that my son’s foot will heal. I feel so lucky to know that there will be life after football someday. But for right now, I am glad there is one more season left this fall, one more chance to turn heartbreak into hopeful.

 

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