What if…six years ago I had really put my foot down and said no when my husband announced that Alex was going to play football?
I mean, was he crazy? I didn’t want my precious 8 year old baby getting knocked around and possibly hurt in such a rough sport. My husband reassured me that at the Mini-Pony level Alex would be playing on, coaches were on the field to help and instruct. It wouldn’t be until the next level that they played “real” football games. So I agreed to one year and we could assess it after that.
What if…after that first year — in spite of my reservations — I was totally hooked?
What if…I loved Saturdays at the football field (minus the concession stand work, of course!), couldn’t wait to sign up our youngest son Nick for next year, couldn’t wait for Alex to play again – the “real” kind of football?
What if…I blinged out spirit wear, took tons of photos, and bought Lion paw earrings in blue and gold?
What if…I captured unforgettable moments on video that Mini-Pony season? Like our team’s touchdown pass to win the SuperBowl in the final 6 seconds of the game:
What if…the emotional post-game coaches’ speeches after that Mini-Pony SuperBowl win were also part of the video memories I made? Including one speech that choked up the head coach, a man who usually doesn’t get too emotional:
What if…many of those boys went on in the next stage of their junior football careers to play another SuperBowl two years later in the Pony division?
What if…we were playing a team we had beaten in the regular season, so spirits were high for a win?
What if…I painted my face with Lion paws, had on my blinged out spirit gear, and made a ton of cupcakes for the boys, coaches and fans in attendance?
What if…with less than 2 minutes to go in the game, the other team scored a touchdown to pull ahead of us?
What if…we were unable to score in the last minute and a half and lost the game?
What if…the boys had to stand on the field and congratulate the other team as they received the SuperBowl trophy, even though that’s the last place they wanted to be; would they appreciate this life lesson in good sportsmanship?
What if…one of the coaches had to give the post-game talk, and tell the boys through his own tears that he really was sorry because he wanted them to experience the thrill of winning a “real” SuperBowl?
What if…there were lots of 10 years olds in tears that day?
What if…truthfully, there were a lot of parents and grandparents in tears that day, including me with the blue and gold lion paws I had painted on my face running from the tears that betrayed all of hurt I felt as a parent when you see your kid experience disappointment?
What if…two years later, our boys had a good season and had to gut out a few wins toward the end in order to make it to the playoffs at the JV level?
What if…the boys played hard and got through the two rounds of playoffs to make it to another SuperBowl?
What if…we went up against a team we had beaten during the regular season — just like two years earlier?
What if…the score was 0-0 with 24 seconds left in regulation, and we scored a touchdown to take the lead?
What if…on the ensuing kick off, the other team ran it back for a touchdown, tying the game and sending us into overtime?
What if…we were not able to score on our 4 downs, but the opponent kicked a field goal on its fourth down and won the game?
What if…those boys had to again stand on the field and behave as gracious losers, congratulating yet another team as they received the SuperBowl trophy? Would the life lesson from two years ago help ease the pain a bit?
What if…in the post-game huddle, the coaches told the boys how proud of them they were, and told them to look ahead to their final year of junior football before high school, saying we would have an awesome team that could compete with anyone?
What if…the coaches were absolutely right?
What if…as if to bookend where it all started with Mini-Pony (for the Rice family, anyway), the Varsity team had an undefeated season this year?
What if…we headed into the first round of the playoffs facing an opponent we had beaten on their home field during the regular season?
What if…once again, spirits were high for a successful run through the playoffs to the SuperBowl as a #1 seed?
What if…it was not to be?
What if…our boys were eliminated from the playoffs in the first round game, as a drive to tie the game in the last minute fell short?
What if…the most true thing one of the coaches told the boys in the post-game huddle was: “A good team won today, and a good team lost today.”?
What if…that wasn’t the end of the story?
What if...I told you, a group of boys — some of whom I had watched over six years (a number have been playing together even longer) — became fine young men before my eyes that day?
What if…it was not because they had only one season in six years where they didn’t make the playoffs…and not because they had their second undefeated season in all those years…and not because they outscored their opponents 276 to 26 in the regular season of their Varsity year?
What if…they became young men because at the end of the game our team asked if they could pray with the team that had just knocked them out of the playoffs and dashed their hopes for a SuperBowl win?
What if…they became young men because they asked to kneel with ‘the enemy” to show solidarity for one of the opponent’s teammates — 12 year old Colby Reid — who was just diagnosed with stage IV Anaplastic Large Cell (Non-Hodgkins) Lymphoma and is now going through six months of aggressive chemotherapy treatments?
What if…our coaches had both teams gather in the center of the field, and one of our coaches led the players and coaches from both teams in prayer for Colby and his family, and our boys shouted a hearty “Amen” once the prayer was done?
What if…I had missed this incredible, amazing, heart-wrenching moment in the lives of these young men and their coaches?
What if…six years ago, I had said no to something that would have brought me so many ups and downs, wonderful memories, and a host of friends I now call my sports family?
What if…I get to keep it all in my heart forever?
My son Alex:
The 2015 Varsity Walkersville junior Lions: