My father was a high school football fanatic. He dabbled as a part-time sports writer for a small East Texas newspaper and, in review of his old sport clippings, I have to say he was a smooth writer. Unfortunately, for me, most of his writing took place before my time and an untimely death when I was only six-years old laid to rest not only my father but any chance that he and I would ever have to sit elbow to elbow in the press box. In my place, my older brother tagged along with him as he covered his much beloved Kirbyville Wildcats on the high school gridiron. My brother, to this day, fondly recounts those many Friday nights spent beneath the East Texas lights with my father. As an eight-year old football phene, he viewed the long climb to the press box and the moments spent within the confines of its small, dingy, interior as magical moments that set him apart from the other kids who roamed the bleachers and played sandlot football beneath its rickety frame. My father, to him, was a revered celebrity of sorts and he, his assistant, a quasi-celebrity in his own right. The players, a hodge-podge of freckled and peach fuzz faced kids, were superstars and heroes, idolized by this scrawny eight-year old kid.
Like my father, I developed a passion for high school sports and eventually followed his footsteps into the world of small town sports writing. And, this past year, on a warm pre-fall evening in muggy Southeast Texas, I had the opportunity to experience what my father must have during those seasons so long ago. With my ten-year old son in tow, I made the sixty-mile trip to cover a high school football game. The ride over was unlike most of our road trips in the past. We were focused. The radio never came on as we discussed high school football, sports in general and my experiences as a freelance sportswriter. In addition to our analysis of the current crop of teams and our treatise on the role of sports in society, we made our predictions for the night and he, in typical ten-year old fashion, threw some numbers off the top of his head, making sure to cover himself regardless of who won, and later reminded me that he had been dead on in picking the score for the winning team.
The game wasn’t anything to write home about, no pun intended, but I really wasn’t there for the game. The deciding factor in continuing this passion of mine, besides a few bucks to keep the creditors away, is the opportunity to try and rekindle some of those moments my father shared with my brother, an attempt to see things from his perspective rather than only from the world of my then eight-year old sibling.
As I removed my notebook and pencil from my case, he did the same. When I wrote a brief heading across the top, in hen scratched letters, he followed suit. I could see him out of the corner of my eye trying to set up his page just as I had. I explained to him his important role as a spotter and let him know that he did not have to keep a game summary or stats as I was doing. Despite this, he did keep stats, impeccably, for the first quarter. From then on, he assumed his spotter role and did a fine job. His enthusiasm waned at times, only to lift during moments of excitement. Then, at some point in the fourth quarter of a long fought battle, he laid his head on his notepad and drifted in and out for the remainder of the game. Having seen the view from the other side, I can now pass on to my brother what my father must have experienced on those Friday nights so long ago.
Each time you scribbled on the notepad he gave you, making sure to record every minute detail as any cub reporter would, he wanted to tell everyone “That’s my boy”, much as a parent does when their son scores a touchdown. And, when you blurted out that number thirty-three had made the first down, he was glad you had because he was too busy watching you watch the game with bright-eyed wonder to even notice that there was a number thirty-three in the game. With each move of your pencil across some long ago tossed sheet of paper, he could feel the emotional transport of his world to yours, a small piece of him, an appreciation for boring, useless stats being passed on, for better or worse, to his son. He knew your mother would never understand, not fully, but he hoped you someday would.
I can also tell you that although the crisp Fall air, the finely tuned field, the smell of the concession stand, the roar of the band, and the stomping of feet on the bleachers all touched your senses and made you feel you were in the greatest place on earth, they were completely lost on him. He noticed them, yes. He enjoyed them, as always, but not in the same sense that he had before you joined his little fraternity. Suddenly, it all seemed so small. Looking at you, bathed in the stadium lights, slapping mosquitoes from your cheeks, leaning through the press box window to not miss a bit of the action, he saw you. He saw someone to share it with and it made it all seem so trivial, so unimportant and yet, so important and so meaningful and so lasting. He was glad he brought you.