The sun is starting to descend in the late afternoon sky on this August day. It’s hot and the dust from the Texas ground reflects the sun like golden flakes in the air as it is kicked around by a multitude of little feet. In the background you can hear the distinct shrill of whistles and men barking orders. There is not a parking space to be found and canopies, coolers and fold out chairs line the grass displaying a scene that has all the earmarks of a major event. In Texas, at least, it is a major event. It is the first day of youth football practice.
You can tell who the new ones are. They cling close to their parents with a look of uncertainty and trepidation. Unsure of what is in store; they sip nervously from their water bottles as they eye all the other children around them. The parents too have that inquisitive look wondering how this will all transpire and how their son will fit in with the rest.
The veterans are unmistakable. They have a “been there done that” kind of swagger. They will have laid claim to the shady areas with all the essentials around them to stay comfortable and cool while they sit catching up with familiar faces. The boys will be horsing around with the ones they know, oblivious to the new kids standing on the side, until the whistle blows indicating the start of practice. To them it is a social event.
On the grass you can see a congregation of men in conversation, pointing to different locations of the field. A strategy is being hashed out. A plan is being put into place that will dictate the course of the next 3 months. They have taken on the noble endeavor of coaching boys not only on the game but on life. They will be applauded and criticized. They will be loved and even hated and through it all will have a hand in shaping who these boys will be as men.
Little do they all know these people, both stranger and friend, will eventually become a family and those boys eventually will become brothers. Many will come and go but there will be a core that stay together devoted to the game and more importantly to one another. They will spend hours practicing in both the heat and cold. They will bleed, hurt, cry and push themselves past their limits just so they don’t let the other ones down. They’ll have nicknames like Hollywood, Double D, Sunshine, Pit-bull, Big Z, J-Rod and The Flash. They’ll have sleepovers; attend birthday parties and hangout at recess together. They will wear the name of their team proudly and fiercely defend it from any criticism or attack. They will be welcomed in each other’s homes as if they lived there and moms will greet them with hugs and kisses as if they were their own. They will look tough and big in their helmets and pads although we will know better. Their actions will be immortalized in pictures and videos and they will cheer each other on as well as pick each other up. They’ll experience joyous victories they will always remember and bitter disappointments they will never forget. No one else will understand exactly their bonds and toils. No one will know how much they gave of themselves for each other and how much they loved the game.
This is nothing new; their grandfathers, fathers and older brothers each have a similar story to tell. It is the story of football and the whistle now blows for a new group of little boys. It is time to imprint their legacy, like the rest before them, on a 100 yard long, 53 yard wide stretch of turf.