More Than 100 Yards of Turf

Its gears were rusted. Its cables were loose. Its tires were wobbly. I did my best to keep my sister’s 10-speed straight on Bridgetown Road. It was hard. Cars were passing me by at 45 mph. And, I was balancing my shoulder pads, helmet and a bag of hip, butt, thigh and knee pads on its handle bars. I was fourteen, going into my freshman year, and pedaling furiously to get to my first two-a-days. They were only 2.5 miles away.

I was in fourth grade when I put on pads. The field whose end zone curled up the hillside called out to me early in life. It beckoned me to its banister-lined edges to watch its warriors compete. It urged me along as I tried to catch the extra points at the back of its end zone. It welcomed my mid-field re-enactments of the best moments of the game. But, I knew that a time would come when I would have to earn my Friday night under its lights.

Two-a-days were just the start. The field wanted everything from me and my teammates. It took our blood, sweat, and tears. It tore tendons, broke bones, bloodied noses, sprained ankles, chipped teeth, rung bells and left scars. It wanted our anger, angst, and anguish. It wanted our souls. It wanted our spirits. It wanted our commitment. It wanted our full attention. It wanted everything. It demanded everything. The choice was clear. Give it all, leave it all or don’t come back.

More than 100 Yards - p

The price was heavy. The field could make us cry out in pain. It could make us throw up. But, the field was always fair. It did not care about our size. It did not care about our background or who our parents were. Whether we lived by the river or in the heights on the hill, whether we lived in a mobile home or stand-alone home, it judged us objectively. It measured us in tackles made, fumbles recovered, yards gained, catches completed and points scored.

The field asked for a lot. But, it gave back more.

It gave me role models like Brian Koeling, Kevin Bennet, Eric Shuman, J. B. Bowman, Chad Lyons, Jimmy Neyer and David VanTyle. I studied and mimicked their play. I took the best parts of them and made them a part of me. And, more than likely when they were my age they did the same. So, in many ways, this field connected me to them, to those before them, and those before them. It gave me a heritage, a history.

It also gave me a code. Every Friday night our coaches, trainers, parents, priests, neighbors, friends, teachers and even past players gathered around that field to pass judgment on our play. But, more importantly, they passed judgment on how we carried ourselves. Did we hustle on and off the field? Did we take off our helmets before our feet hit the sidelines? We sure as hell better have not. While on the sidelines did we cheer on our teammates? How did we handle victory? How did we handle defeat? Overall, did we represent them the way they expected to be represented? It was in this fashion that our community transmitted its values to us.

It gave me heart. With every snap of the ball, the field would ask “What are you about?” With every blow of the whistle, the field would ask “Do you have what it takes?” With every move of the chains, the field would ask “Can you give me more?” I had to learn how to dig deep. I had to learn how to draw on my reserves. I had to learn how to turn to others in my time of need. Reassurance could take the form of simple facemask-to-facemask, hands over each other’s ear holes, eyes locked on each other kind of exchange. Few, if any, words were needed. These were battles of the heart. We won them together. This field gave me brothers like Randy Honeycutt, Shane Hall, Ed Beasley, Jay Benett, Timothy McCarthy, J. J. Clark, Dan Linneman, Randy Roth, Dennis Wysinger, and Dana Stubblefield. We may have woken up sore on Saturday mornings but our hearts were always full.

That field was a place of struggle and strife and clashes and hits. But, it was also a place of nourishment, connection, love and growth.

I wish I had another minute, another quarter, another game.

I wish I would have had a chance to say good-bye. I wish I would have had a chance to say thank you.

So, I will say it now.

I arrived on your 100 yards of turf as a boy on a bike. And, I left you as a young man with a warrior’s heart.

Thank you.

What did your field of play give you?

 

Shawn Humphrey, the Blue Collar Professor (@blucollarprof)
Connect with me on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/blucollarprof
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[ Side note: My high school football field is scheduled to be torn down in the coming month.]

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