I remember it better than any algebra class.
Senior year. Holt Arena. Our hopes of a state football title fading with every agonizing tick of the giant clock above the end zone.
Century High School’s football team — with some help from the officials, as I recall — would advance to the state championship that year. Not us.
The game ended. They rushed the field. We lumbered back to our locker room struggling to hold our heads up as Coach had encouraged us to do so many times.
That was 16 years ago. But at a risk of reliving my glory days, I’d be lying if I said it didn’t have a lasting impact on me.
Sports had that kind of effect on me. In high school, I savored every moment of basketball, football and track season. The excitement on the first day of practice. The first game. The last game. My coaches, whom I still consider to be some of the most influential people in my life. Even the musty stench of the locker room somehow seeped into my blood.
I remember so much of it. But biology class? I got nothing.
So I can only imagine what so many of our student athletes must feel as the coronavirus now threatens fall sports. The Idaho High School Activities Association hasn’t called the season off — yet. But earlier this week, a top state health official warned leaders that sports could complicate efforts to reopen schools.
And if sports do return after already being cancelled this spring, it could happen with limited crowds, travel and opponents. It won’t be the same.
I feel for those who might miss out, especially our high school seniors. Not because I think school is less important or that bigger things don’t await, but because I know sports can mean everything to a 17-year-old.
They did to me.
They also kept me connected to the classroom. I had a habit in those days of keeping my grades high enough to play on the team but low enough to avoid any strenuous classwork. (I don’t recommend doing this, athletes — I had a lot of ground to make up in college.)
I’m not proud of it, either. But looking back, I appreciate how sports kept this lackluster learner in class day after day, paying attention at least some of the time and sticking it out until graduation day.
Sports also taught me lessons I didn’t learn in the classroom. How to compete. How to win. How to lose. How to listen closely enough to avoid an ass chewing from my coach. How to recognize when I deserved an ass chewing. How to respect my coaches and teammates — lessons that have carried over well into the workplace.
Sports helped in other ways, too. When I lost a brother to a car accident as a freshman, I walked right past the school counseling office and into the bathroom, where I curled up on the floor. I asked a few perplexed peers who saw me there to go get Jeff Marshall, my head basketball coach and assistant football coach — someone I trusted.
Coach left his class to come sit next to me on the bathroom floor and listen.
“I never lost a brother,” he said quietly, “but I lost a mom.”
That helped, a lot.
Sports provided lasting memories — and friendships. Last November, I met up with some old teammates at our hometown field to surprise our head football coach, who was coaching his last game.
We hadn’t seen each other in years. We looked different. We had kids, jobs, bigger waistlines. But not much had changed between us. We laughed. We reminisced. We debated who caught the big pass, who got their ass chewed the most.
We’re in an unprecedented health crisis. Safety is a real concern. But I feel for kids who might miss out on sports and other activities that can help shape who we become.