Two Old Men
The two men met at the local High School stadium this past Friday night.
7 PM sharp, exactly one week before the first football game of the new season.
They love High School sports, and they couldn’t wait for the new year to begin.
Between the two of them, they’ve been to the stadium hundreds of time for games.
A few of the games involved their own sons playing, but most of them have involved watching other parents’ sons and daughters compete.
The two --- both in their sixties --- one retired, the other still a working stiff --- were as full of hope and anticipation for the new season as a couple of kids gathered by the tree a few nights before Christmas.
Sitting in the bleachers near the fifty-yard line, they saw that the field below was covered in the grandstand’s long shadow. Other than a jogger and two couples getting their evening walk in around the track, they had the place to themselves.
They could feel fall’s first nip in the air. The calendar said August 24, but in a way it felt like October.
They began to talk about the football season ahead.
What are the team’s chances this season? Who might replace the star quarterback of the last three seasons? Will the youngest of three brothers who have played for the school perform as valiantly in this, his senior year, as his older brothers did?
The conversation shifted to the Girls Soccer team, coached by a dear friend to both of them. The infusion of four talented freshmen, coupled with a talented core group of older veterans, and a lanky athletic goal-keeper with the wingspan of a pterodactyl, could make for a special season for a program that always has lofty aspirations. Given the fact that the area has produced two of the greatest women soccer players in history, it’s obvious that even the loftiest dreams can come true for these young players.
The two reminisced about their own youthful days at play, and their very modest athletic ‘careers’. Most of their playing was done on the school grounds, at recess, and in front yards and vacant lots in their home towns. Football plays drawn up in the dirt (“everybody go long”); Wiffle-Ball contests (where the players doubled as play-by-play men); hauling a neighbor’s extra sawdust into a pile to serve as a high-jump pit (when the scissors-kick was the standard jumping style, and landing on one’s feet was always the goal – sawdust having a way of finding its way into terrible places should one fall in it).
One of them men recalled an early practice in high school when, as a freshman, his older teammates suggested he turn down his effort a notch, that he was making the rest of the guys look bad.
They talked about how teams take on certain personalities, and how they had observed instances where the best player on a team was the hardest worker, leaving his teammates to have to match him in their efforts. Those teams almost always over-achieved. Conversely, they had seen teams where a star player may have taken his/her talent for granted, set a bad example, and the team suffered for it. They agreed that while the coach can have an influence on a team, especially during the season, it’s on the players to put in the necessary work in the off-season.
A few more topics followed – their Bucket List of HS stadiums they’ve not yet been to - a couple early-season big games they’re looking forward to – the inspiring performances from the recent Olympic Games by America’s women athletes – and how much better off our world is, and will continue to be, because women are now able to participate in sports (unlike the girls we grew up with, in the pre-Title IX days).
Too soon it was getting late. Long past dark, the stadium’s lights a week away from being turned on, the two made their way to the parking lot.
They didn’t watch a game, hear the band, see old friends, or eat the stadium’s great popcorn.
But they could still feel the excitement in the air. It’s coming.
Next Friday will be different.
There’s no question about it.