Last night, I was manning my position on the WCS football chain gang as I have done for fourteen years at home games. You always hold your breath when you see kids go down and not get up and on the sidelines, you have an unobstructed view. The following, from September 4, 2008, is about a high school injury from a very personal perspective.
I talked to Jared in the hall today at school. He showed up on a prayer request this week for a football injury suffered in last Friday night's opening victory. Jared told me the injury might require the insertion of screws into one of his fingers and he was going to the doctor to find out the prognosis. Justin, an excellent lineman for the Wildcats, missed last week's game and won't play tomorrow either as he heals from an ankle sprain. Football is a tough game and not for the faint of heart. My mom could not bear to watch my brother, Scott, play high school football in Lubbock, Texas but as a faithful mother, she was in the stands anyway. It has to be the greatest- and most gut wrenching- feeling to see your child compete. Ian told us in class today that his dad is hopeful he can get out of the hospital, where he has been readmitted for complications due to major surgery, simply so he can see his only son trot out on a football field this weekend. The Scriptures are full of examples of the Lord loving, and aching for, his children. I have no personal testimony with that experience but I know my folks rejoiced when I did and mourned when I was disconsolate. Rick Telander ofSports Illustrated below writes a beautiful but heartbreaking story about his son's football season which was supposed to begin for him last week. At the risk of a copyright violation, which I am unsure of, I have taken the liberty of reprinting it below. Please read it....and say a prayer for all the kids who compete in all the different sports and pour their hearts into their teams.
WE OFTEN play catch with a football in our yard, Zack and I. Well, the yard is too small, so we play on our driveway, and a bad throw means the ball will hit the blacktop and be gouged. But recently this old high school quarterback hasn't been able to sling a ball the kid couldn't catch or at least stop. At 17 he's a wiry 6'4", with a 6'7" wingspan, hands like pie tins. And he can sky. In junior high he finished fifth in Illinois in the high jump. He's fast, too—had the fastest 300-yard shuttle time on the football team this summer—and agile. He started on the sophomore basketball team, still owns club swimming records, was a terrific diver and has thrown a baseball 260 feet. Last spring he made all-conference in lacrosse.
But football is something he loves with a passion, and, after playing cornerback, safety and quarterback, this was going to be his bust-out senior season as a varsity wide receiver, the position he was meant to play. I called him "White Randy Moss" when I threw to him. "Dad, I can't wait to score a touchdown," he'd say. "I can't wait."
All winter he lifted weights, and all summer he worked with the team, honing routes, catching pass after pass from strong-armed junior quarterback Tommy Rees, snaring balls that were nearly silent as they nestled in his hands. The season opener was approaching, and the excitement was building in Lake Forest. Never before had our high school team played at home under lights. But after more than a year of fund-raising by the sports moms and the booster group, the lights had been installed and the switch would be thrown on Friday at 7 p.m.
Then on Monday, while running sprints at practice, Zack went down. The kids running next to him thought he'd had a heart attack. It was his right knee. The MRI was inconclusive, but the leg was locked in a slight bend as if it were welded that way. I had ridden my bike over to practice earlier that day, sitting far up in the empty stands, out of sight, as I like to do. I had left when the sprints started. Boring stuff, and I had a long way to ride. But when I got home, Zack was already there, on crutches, a haunted look in his eyes.
The surgery came on Thursday, and Ed Hamming, the orthopedic surgeon and a family friend, said it went well. Zack's torn and buckled meniscus was sewn back together, a small part was removed, and now, in a straight-leg brace, he would begin to heal. How long? A couple months or so. The football season would be over.
Just that morning, Aug. 28, a full-page article had appeared in the suburban paper with a photo of Zack catching a ball in practice under the headline: TELANDER WILL BE TOP TARGET IN LF'S PASSING GAME. The writer had mentioned that I used to play ball, and had asked Zack if his dad had given him any advice. Zack answered, "He said there is nothing better than high school football or high school sports, and that one should never take any moment on the field for granted."
On Friday morning Zack and I went to a pancake restaurant. Zack sat in the backseat of the car, barely fitting from door to door. "Dad," he said, "is my knee going to be O.K.?"
I assured him it was. What dad wouldn't? He had taken a shower—that was an effort—and the Steri-Strips on his knee had fallen off the three single-sutured holes, revealing the inked word Yes on his kneecap, written by a nurse so the doctor would know which leg to cut.
After a time he said, "I think I had a life experience a couple years ago when I saw this movie called Outside Providence. Have you seen it? It's kind of a kid's movie."
I told him I hadn't.
"The narrator is this guy who says, 'My younger brother Jackie had an accident when he was a kid. We were playing touch football, and he fell off the roof.'" Zack laughed at that, and so did I. "But the brother doesn't cut Jackie any slack. No pity. He's in a wheelchair, but his brother's always yelling at him, 'Come on Jackie, hurry up! We're gonna be late!' Feeling sorry for somebody only makes them feel worse."
"You're right, bud. That is so true."
There are many tragic things in life. What is a missed season? A wounded limb? A chance lost? I told myself those things were inconsequential. That even if they weren't, they were blind bad luck, nothing you could do, move on. A large, hand-lettered sign had appeared on our front doorstep the night before. It read, GOOD LUCK ZACK! GO SCOUTS! BEAT THOSE PIRATES. It was signed, THE VARSITY CHEERLEADERS. They didn't know.
At the game I watched my son stand on the sideline as his teammates rallied to a 30--15 victory over Palatine. He wore his jersey, number 13—was that the cause?—and he tried to stay up with his pals. But when they jubilantly left the field, he was alone, moving awkwardly on his metal crutches.
I thought back to my senior season. Wasn't it yesterday? Under my hometown lights in downstate Peoria, we Richwoods Knights rained down hellfire on those who dared enter our house. There were the seven noble stitches in my chin, the cheerleaders in forest green and white, the white-booted Royalettes, my wise-guy buddies in the stands, the kids in the band, the tubas, the flutes, the swishing pom-poms, parents up high where adults should be, neighbors there too, even teachers. And then there was the football arcing through the velvet sky, under those Friday night lights, a bright, flickering orb of danger and unimaginable joy.
I stand away from the large exiting crowd now, in my blue TURN ON THE LIGHTS T-shirt and think of my son. And for a moment it's almost more than I can bear.
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