Published in the Rains County Leader on September 13, 2016:
Sunday was 1st Down and a Season to Go at my church this week. Pastor Jason is one of the coaches of the 5th and 6th Grade Rains County Wildcat Pee Wee Football Team, and he invited his players, coaches, and their families to come to Believers’ Baptist for a Continental breakfast before joining us in the morning worship service. In honor of the day, the boys wore their team jerseys, and everyone else who had a t-shirt from a favorite sports team wore it.
There was a festive air in the church along with lots of smiles as twenty plus young men filed in and took their places on the front rows of the section where our youth usually sit. Lots of proud parents and siblings filled seats around the sanctuary, and the ushers brought in extra chairs to accommodate the overflow crowd. The morning proceeded much as I had expected, but what I didn’t expected was to be totally impressed by the way the team members conducted themselves and by the obvious connection between the team and the coaching staff.
As a kid, I was a tomboy, and I followed my older brother around in the hopes he would let me play football or baseball with him and his friends. My participation usually involved being center or catcher for both teams, the positions no one else wanted. Once I entered the awkward stage where I developed two left feet and lost the ability to walk and chew gum at the same time, my sports career ended, and I turned my attention to the piano.
My son lost interest in sports when he discovered that he could attract more girls by growing long hair and joining a rock band than by getting knocked around on an athletic field. Before that, most of his experience was on an elementary soccer team that was more interested in the half-time and post-game snacks than playing the game, so my exposure to team spirit and the educational value of team sports has been limited.
I’ve seen lots of movies and sports programs about the value of the team experience, but most of the serious ones were about older boys and men. The few that were about younger children were comedies full of “AWWWWW” moments with a moral at the end to give it some redeeming value. On Sunday, though, I glimpsed the strong bond that godly men can create and the life lessons they can teach when they dedicate themselves to boys who may start off thinking all they want is to wear a cool uniform and have some fun.
My first surprise was during the opening prayer. After the boys took their seats, there was the normal talking, wiggling, and visiting – but when Pastor Jason stepped behind the pulpit and began the welcome and announcements, they straightened up and gave him their attention. When he began to pray, they were quiet, and when he said “Amen,” a chorus of young voices said it with him. The same was true for the offertory prayer and the benediction. It was obvious this was not the first time this group had prayed together.
During the time when we usually “greet our neighbors,” Pastor Jason took a few minutes to talk about why he has coached for nine years. For one thing, it teaches the boys what it means to commit fully to something. During the three-month season, the boys dedicate as much as twenty hours a week to three practices and a game. They also learn the discipline of tiring conditioning exercises, and they learn to deal with the risk of scrapes, bruises and other injuries during practice drills and games.
He went on to say that one of the most important reasons he continues to coach is because of the love he has for the boys and because of the opportunity it gives him to provide one-on-one attention during formative years when many children begin to feel lost in a world that is moving too fast. As he introduced each player, it was evident from their shy grins that each one felt important to be a part of something bigger than himself.
Another of the coaches spoke for a few minutes, and he described himself as the team disciplinarian. It was obvious by the laughter of the boys that he ruled, not with fear but with a mutual respect. He told the story of their first game on Saturday when, before the game, his players lined their helmets up side-by-side in a perfect line with their pads lined up behind them. A coach from the other team came over and asked how he had gotten his boys to do that, and he replied simply, “I asked them to.”
During his talk, he asked the boys a couple of questions. The boys answered in unison, “Yes, sir.” At one point he asked them, “And what do you do when an older man is talking to you?” Again, they replied in unison, “You look him in the eye.”
I’ve always been a football fan, especially when I can watch it in the air-conditioned comfort of my living room. After today, though, I’m an avid fan of Pee Wee Football Programs and especially of men who are dedicated to showing young players that it’s not just a game.
A LONG AND WINDING ROAD: A Caregiver’s Tale of Life, Love, and Chaos