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Multigenerational Mom Muses on Twin Toddlers & Twenty-Something Daughters

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The Painful Privilege of Teaching your Husband’s Football Players

Teaching is a tough calling. And so is football. Both are hard and agonizing and leave you feeling bruised and battered. There are many days — sometimes almost all the days — that you’re left wondering why you willingly press your heart and soul onto such a grindstone, only to be continuously worn down.

Hit after hit. Tackle after tackle. Fumble after fumble. Punt after punt. The lecture goes wrong. The lesson plan fizzles. The handoff is bobbled. The class gets defensive. The kid you thought you’d finally wrangled into catching the ball, drops it at the last second. Some never make it into the end zone.

So many hard drives seem to end without points scored. Is all the work really worth the reward? Is there a reward?

I say yes. Even beneath the gritty pressure, I can spot the moments of brilliance, the shimmer amidst the dust. The glimmer of hope, the sparkle of fire waiting somewhere at the buzzer. For me. For them. For all of us. The grindstone polishes us all. But the going is always rough.

I am a teacher, and I am a football coach’s wife. And I am lucky enough to see my two worlds collide every year when I teach some of the players my husband coaches (and I cheer for) on Friday nights.

It is a privilege, but a painful one. The hardness and heartache of teaching players can be amplified beyond belief. But thankfully, so can the blessings.

Because of the duality of my relationship with these guys, I know so much more about them than what I usually know about my students’ lives.

I know who their parents are, where they come from, and where they hope to go. I know their strengths, and their weaknesses too. I know who struggles with neglect, who is spoiled rotten, who wants a D-1 scholarship, who just wants a family and fishing pond. I know who lost their mother to drugs, who reads on a 4th grade level, who travels from apartment to apartment to outrun bill collectors. I know who loves Hot Cheetos, or Hair Bands, or X-Box Live.

Over the years, I’ve had players with every privilege in the world and players with nearly every misfortune imaginable.

I’ve taught players whose moms were booster club presidents and players whose moms were boozing it up behind the press box. Players whose dads worked the sideline chain gang on Friday nights, and players whose dads worked the prison chain gang on the roadside on Wednesday mornings.

I know these things because these kids become my kids — the way all my students become my kids. But then, they’re also my football family — and football families have incredibly strong bonds. So they tell me things they wouldn’t necessarily tell somebody else.

Sometimes I learn their deepest truths in class discussions, sometimes in private ones, sometimes in journals and essays and notes. Sometimes by the way they dress, or interact, or suddenly withdraw.

I challenge these boys, I hold them to high standards, and demand they meet them. And sometimes they don’t. More times than I can count, they stumble and fall from the burdens they carry.

And when push comes to shove — and it always does (football is a contact sport after all) — I am here for them to vent, to fail, to get back up, to keep pushing forward. Because I know their lives. I know their stories. I know their pain and/or their privilege. And I know their potential.

And heaven help me, when they refuse to meet that potential, to seize the bar and raise it — to bench press it farther than they ever thought possible — it hurts me.

But I have to remind myself that if their fighting spirit — so evident out on the football field — doesn’t manifest itself in my classroom, I shouldn’t take it personally. Some of them are fighting demons far darker than the one found inside the book I’m asking them to read or the essay I’m demanding they write.

It frustrates me when I know they’re just being lazy… but it wrecks me when I know it’s because of their demons.

I know so much more about these players than simply their stats and their numbers listed in the program. And I wouldn’t trade my job or them as students for anything.

They inspire me and bless me and teach me more than they will ever know — more than I can ever teach them — about perseverance through pain, and about finding and keeping humanity inside so much hardship.

They teach me that, though struggles might run deep in your life, courage can too. Football has helped them see that. And teaching football players has helped me see that too.

Yes, the grind of teaching — and particularly teaching students with lives that shatter innocence (theirs and yours) — wears your heart and soul down. You give more (and sometimes lose more), than you ever thought possible.

But the wearing down also polishes your heart and soul. You often gain more than you ever thought possible too. So yes, the rewards are always worth the work. Are always worth the grind.

The Alchemy of Football: Spinning Straw into Gold

Football players know how to spin straw into gold. They know how to take the tough times and hard hits and turn them all into victory. Into pure gold.

Football has proven to me that alchemy exists. Remember alchemy? The science of legend and starry-eyed madness — that Middle Ages’ fever to turn base matter into precious metal?

It can be done. Football has discovered the secret. But there’s no short-cut, no cheating, no sleight-of-hand or fairy dust or smoke and mirrors. It takes months and months and years and years of dedication, sacrifice, discipline, and hard work.

The transformation is real, but not everybody makes it through to the other side. The process is hard. The grind is grueling. And if you survive it, you transcend it. And the result is pure gold.

But this year, the alchemy may be interrupted.

The hard work — the blood, sweat, tears put in during the off-season — may all get upended. Snatched away before the first opponent is faced. Snatched away by a virus that has completely transformed the world into something none of us recognize. A kind of reverse alchemy where conversation becomes altercation, faith reduced to condemnation, politics spun to propaganda — fueling shutdowns and shouting matches. A virus ending with so much death — of people, civility, relationships.

And in the aftermath of this virus, in an upside-down world, we may lose football for a season.

Robert Frost penned a famous poem about how quickly beauty and youth and life can pass us by — how “Nothing Gold Can Stay.” But I refuse to believe that. Beauty may be fleeting, and youth and life as well, but character is steady. Character remains.

That character is particularly evident in the new movement currently underway to give players input in decision making. One of the leaders of this newly-established #WeWantToPlay initiative is Trevor Lawrence, a player with well-established, 24 karat character.

Trevor is leading the charge to allow Power 5 conferences to play football. His points are valid and well-articulated. These schools have abilities that smaller colleges (and high schools) don’t have. They have the funds to take proper precautions and place programs in bubbles that will isolate and monitor players, their contacts, and their health. While there are still risks, these colleges’ situations are as ideal as it’s possible to be right now.

Still, there would be sacrifices. Beyond the risk of actual contraction are the documented after-effects of COVID-19, including potentially life-altering heart complications. These young adults are willing to make the sacrifice. They are adults, after all. They should have a say. Their voices should be heard.

High school football is another story entirely.

My family is involved with high school football. Our players are not adults. They do, however, know and understand sacrifice. Both the boys and their coaches have sacrificed a lot for the season already — and now they may end up sacrificing their season. It’s a sacrifice they never saw coming; one nobody signed up for.

Sacrifices are hard. In a normal year, football demands countless hours of sweat, blood, tears, bruises, sore muscles, brain power, and lost family and social time. This year, the sacrifices could be far more.

There are no easy answers. Some will have a voice in the choices of sacrifices. Others will not.

But if I’ve learned anything about football, it’s that sacrifice renders gold. If the Power 5 conferences have football, those players and their coaches will spin straw into gold.

And if high school and the smaller conferences don’t have a season, they, too, will spin straw into gold.

Even if the alchemy of football is interrupted… its magic will not be reversed. It will not be halted. It will persist and proclaim itself victorious. These young men and their coaches will come out on the other side stronger.

For all involved in football programs, it’ll sting — and way more than a little bit. It’ll hurt — a lot. For us, football IS fall. But the loss (or unexpected win) of a season won’t cause any of these coaches and players to fall. They know sacrifice. They’ve overcome pain and hardship before.

Because the gold of football is not in the wins, in the trophies or championships, in the college careers or NFL draft picks.  No, the pure gold that is forged from football is strength of character. So while the spent blood, sweat, and tears of the off-season may come to nothing, it won’t really come to nothing. Not really.

These players and coaches — from high school to college– have gold pumping in their hearts, fueling their souls, and lighting their wisdom. They are strong, brave, principled, driven, and more flexible than a game plan at halftime.

With or without a season, these programs will be victorious.Their gold will stay.

And even better, their gold will help lead the way out of this dark age and back into light.

To Ball or not to Ball: a coach’s wife’s heartfelt ranking on risk and reward

I am a huge football fan, and we are a huge football family. From my high school ball-coaching husband and pee wee player sons, to my grown daughters (one a Georgia Bulldog, the other a Tennessee Volunteer), we live for Friday nights under the lights and Saturdays out in the sun. But I have to tell you, all this talk of opening up summer practice has me torn.

Right now, my husband’s after-school profession and my family’s biggest passion and beloved pastime is under some serious scrutiny as the Powers-that-Be determine what, when, how (and even whether) to get the preseason conditioning and practices under way.

My heart is so torn. I know the risks and I know the rewards.

The risks can be great. My daughter is a doctor out in Dallas. The most-serious cases in all of North Texas are treated in a COVID-unit in her hospital. She tells me how the virus ravages patients, both with preexisting conditions and without. She knows how impossible it is to predict whose body can handle a coronavirus attack and whose can’t.

But I also know the risk for high school football players is minimal. Only 2% of confirmed COVID-19 cases are children, and of those, only 6% or so are hospitalized. Even with the growing awareness of the dangerous Pediatric Multi-system Inflammatory Syndrome that’s been in the news lately, the risk to our players is incredibly small.

So odds are, our boys can huddle up, knock helmets, throw passes, and swap sweat and oxygen without adverse consequences. So what happens on the practice field isn’t what worries me.

No, I am far more worried about what happens in the weight room.

These boys lift A LOT of weight. They huff and puff and pump themselves up before pressing ginormous poundage. They use spotters. And those spotters stand directly behind and/or above the weightlifters’ faces. They exhale and inhale each other’s air. Six-foot social distancing is impossible. Ingestion of respiration droplets is inescapable.

And while the boys themselves are probably going to be just fine, they ARE potential carriers who can share the virus at home with parents and grandparents — some with compromised immune systems, some without. (And again, that doesn’t necessarily predict relative safety or risk.)

Also, a recent study out of South Korea reveals over 1000 COVID cases there were linked to fitness classes, at an attack rate of 26.3%. The exhaled breath of athletes under physical exertion causes more dense transmission of isolated droplets. That, paired with unpredictable air flow, increases the contagion factor dramatically. And facemasks during heavy exercise can cause dizziness and fainting. So… not ideal.

The air in the field house weight room will be steamy and full of exhaled air, recirculating through a multitude of lungs, coaches’ included. And that is what worries me on a selfish and personal level. Coaches fall within age ranges far more susceptible to the virus. And those coaches can likewise inadvertently carry the virus home to wives and family members who may be susceptible.

Yes, there are definite variables and risks involved in starting football back up for the summer. But then, I also understand there are rewards.

The rewards for these coaches and their players are tremendous. Because football is so much more than just a game. It is a commitment and it is a calling, but most importantly, it is a family. And that family has a legacy — a legacy left by hometown heroes to current family members, who will carry and leave that legacy for future generations to come.

The tradition of football is strong: the heart, the commitment, the discipline, the family, the legacy.. these are the rewards. And to miss a season would be a tragedy. But then, so would unnecessary deaths or debilitating lifelong conditions for players, coaches, families, and fans.

I guess there are risks and rewards to be considered with every decision that comes with life. And for this wife of a football coach, teacher of football players, and mother of a physician daughter, the risks and rewards are weighing heavy on my heart. I love my family. I love my football. I love my football family.

For the time being, I’ll wait on the Powers-that-Be. And depending on what they decide, my family and football families around the nation will need to make weighty decisions of our own. May God grant us wisdom as we move into this new season of a pandemic preseason.

(And may He also guide medical science to wipe this virus from the face of the earth so that the only face-masks we have to worry about are of the 15-yard penalty variety.)

Seasons Come, Seasons Go, but Football Family Remains

Our football season ended Friday night with a loss in the quarterfinals — in the last minute and a half. It was a heartbreaker. But there are no losers on this team.

The seniors have a four year record of 52-3. That’s a heckuva lot of wins. But the real wins aren’t what’s translated in the record books. The real wins are what’s translated in the boys’ hearts.

And boy, do these players have heart.

The love they shared on the field Friday and on hudl messages and tweets — it showcases the love they have forged through the highs and lows of this and every season they’ve played together.

You hear a lot about how football hardens bodies and builds work ethic.

But football also softens hearts. And breaks them. And Friday night’s loss broke so many hearts, including mine.

But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Because hearts that soften and hearts that break are hearts that feel and hearts that connect. And to me, the most powerful part of football is how it takes individuals and makes them not just teammates — which you hear a lot about — but more importantly family.

And this team is truly a family.

And the men showing these boys how to harden those muscles and hone their work ethic are also the ones showing them how to soften their hearts — to let in their feelings and let out their emotions.

These coaches are not afraid to yell at their players. Not in the least. But they also aren’t afraid to say “I love you” to the boys — and mean it.

And this weekend, I heard a whole bunch of hurting coaches tell their hurting players “I love you.” And I saw a whole lot of hurting players tell each other “I love you.”

I saw a lot of players huddled up, shoulder pad to shoulder pad with tears bunched up in eyes and streaming down cheeks. 

Tears over loss, but also tears over love.

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These boys are becoming men. The best sort of men. The men who aren’t afraid to fight hard yes, but to love hard too. Men who can lead through both triumph and adversity. And Friday night, they triumphed through their adversity and led one another — and the rest of us — through the first stages of grief.

And while we all grieve over this loss, it was ultimately just a game that we lost. And we have so much to be thankful for. And so many harder things we could be grieving…

Last weekend, a football coach in Indiana passed away after suffering a stroke in a playoff game.

Coach Bowsman had coached in his community for 20 years. He was head coach for the past 16. Through two decades of love and sacrifice, he built a football family that is now mourning a deep, true, and profound loss.

And this past week, Coach Bowsman continued his life of sacrifice through organ donation. On Wednesday, his football family lined the hospital hallways for an Honor Walk as he traveled one last time from ICU to the OR. And over the weekend, his football community (and nearly the entire state) burned stadium lights in his honor as his family held services and laid his body to rest.

Football goes so much farther than a win/loss record or memories of the glory days.

Football leaves a lasting impact far greater than most can imagine until we see and hear stories like these.

Those of us fortunate enough to be in a football family, we feel the impact of football on our lives all the time… in the form of a hug in the hallway, or a greeting in a grocery store, in the graduation celebrations of a struggling student athlete, or a text from a former player about the birth of a baby or the death of a parent. And sometimes you get a message about the death of a football family member. 

When you are football family, the impact rarely goes unfelt.

And while we feel all the literal wins and losses, it’s the wins and losses in LIFE we feel most profoundly. 

Football itself is ultimately just a game. But the family it builds… that’s real. And that’s what makes the game so very special.

Photo Creds: Russell Andrews, Marion Mills Webb, Randy Parker & Natalie Perkins

A Gridiron Gathering for Playoffsgiving

It’s Thanksgiving week — a week for gratitude and gatherings, and in our house, a week of five family events full of food. Five. And of those five, three are packed to overflowing with our football family.

And for that, I am so very thankful.

#1– because I love them.

And #2– because that means we’re still in the playoffs — Round 3, the quarterfinals.

Today, we hosted a roster-load of boys for lunch after practice — my husband’s position players and the ones I’ve taught in my classroom. It’s becoming a Thanksgiving tradition.

My heart bursts with love and pride for these boys and the program that guides and goads them through the myriad sacrifices football demands. These boys are called to this sport. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t do it. It’s just too tough, too grueling.

But these players have embraced the grind. And I’m thankful they have because they make my life so much fuller and richer as a result.

Pouring some love into them by way of lasagna is my attempt to give back to these hard-working, hard-fighting boys. They’re honestly some of my favorite humans in all the world.

Some are dark-skinned and some are light-skinned, some are freckled and some are fair. Some have mullets, others buzz cuts; some have high fades, others ‘fros.

A few drive pickups, a couple, clunkers, a good many catch rides from the rest. They are random parts offense, mostly-parts defense, and a couple parts playing both ways.

They come from all walks of life and from all parts of town… and they’ve all taken up residence in my heart.

Today, this mixed crew of kiddos sang karaoke in our basement, shot some really bad pool, played backyard football, and consumed three entire lasagnas, six loaves of garlic bread, four dozen chocolate chip cookies, a pan-and-a-half of red velvet brownies, and 64 bottled waters. Oh, and two —count them, TWO — ate some salad. (Their mothers are insanely proud right now.)

These boys have big appetites and big dreams.

And I see every last one of them scoring those dreams. I really do. Because they work harder at life than I ever dreamed of working at their age.

They’re something special. Like, really special.

And there’s nothing more satisfying for me as a mom, teacher, and coach’s wife than seeing a bunch of really big boys I love dearly fill up their plates and fill up their bellies.

It fills up my heart to overflowing.

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