Recently, within the past three weeks to be precise, I embarked on a path that many of you readers have already trod. It’s a well-traveled journey that, to be honest, I had hoped to avoid.
I’ve become a football parent. God help me.
My son Cooper is one of the hundreds of seventh-grade boys playing football in Central Texas, many for the first time. And I’m not convinced I can handle it.
You have to understand, I’m not a worrier by nature. For the most part, I’m pretty laid-back. When I do get stressed, I try to remember the biblical admonishment to “not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries.”
But this is football, right? Helmet-crunching, bodies-sprawling, bones-breaking gridiron warfare. I’ve watched far too many football games over the years to not possess a healthy fear of the sport’s violence. I can’t even begin to tell you the number of times I’ve somberly sat in some press box while a kid lay injured on the turf and thought, sympathetically, “I’d hate to be that boy’s parents right now.”
Now I’m one of those parents. And let’s be honest, it’s always different when it’s your own kid out there.
My wife and I never really saw this coming. When Cooper came to us last spring and mentioned playing football in seventh grade, we were stunned. He’d had brief forays into baseball and soccer, and over the past year has really gotten into disc golf. But for the past seven years or so, his two primary sporting passions had been basketball and karate. Football was something we watched on TV.
But there’s something about that turf that tantalizes us all, and when Coop expressed his interest we decided not to stand in his way.
Seventh-grade football ranks as the lowest rung of the farm system ladder that eventually leads to the glistening lights of varsity Friday nights. This is entry-level stuff here. In my view, the seventh-grade coaches have to be among the most patient people on the planet. Sure, they’re coaches, instructors, encouragers. They’re also kitten herders — without a net, mind you.
At this level, everything is new. The players have much to learn. Besides which gap they’re supposed to fill or which pass route they’re supposed to run or which guy they’re supposed to block, they also have to remember things like, hey, it’s not necessarily the best idea to wave to Mom in the stands when the ball is about to be snapped.
I also have it on good authority that seventh-grade players are still learning that you don’t have to wear your underwear into the shower following practices and games. Apparently, even in 2017, modesty still exists.
No offense to the seventh graders out there, but their version of football is like a slow-motion version of what we’re all used to seeing on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Which is fine. You’ve got to start somewhere. To those kids, I’d say this: You’re all going to get bigger, faster and stronger in due time. Don’t worry about it. Some of you slot receivers will be tight ends before the end of the season, thanks to an autumnal three-inch growth spurt.
The players aren’t the only ones learning stuff for the first time. Some of us parents are as well. Like, how game day works, everything from the ways to feed your hungry football warrior to the intricacies of the middle school schedule. For weeks, I’d been dreading that Week 8 trip to Bonham Middle School — considering Bonham’s 165-mile distance from Waco — until another parent informed me that, no, Bonham Middle School was actually located in Temple. Whew.
Another pro trip passed along from an experienced parent: Bring air freshener for the ride home. And ear plugs to block out the complaints of the sibling riding next to that funkadelic footballer who is quite literally giving their brother or sister the stink eye.
We had our first intrasquad scrimmage on Tuesday, and games will get cracking next week. Ultimately, during the scrimmage I was less nervous than I thought I’d be. Injuries happen. Kids get hurt. But they can get hurt doing anything — and worrying about it won’t help. I actually felt better about the situation after, ironically enough, researching and writing a story about concussions in high school football. Today’s coaches have probably never been more equipped on how to prevent and identify such injuries.
Here’s hoping your kid, my kid and all the other kids stay safe this season. And that all the parents don’t freak out too much.
At least until four years from now, when they all get their driver’s licenses.