People got a good glimpse of it when “Remember the Titans” came out. Coach Yoast’s daughter, Sheryl filled water cups at practice, grabbed players by the face mask to coach them up and endlessly paced in the bleachers emphatically questioning the referees’ calls.
Sydney Hulme gets it. She’s done those things — yes, keep reading because she can coach ‘em up with the best of them. But she’s not losing her mind in the bleachers. Sydney doesn’t even want to sit up there, especially after her dad, Midway head football coach Jeff Hulme, let her stand beside him on the sideline when she was in fifth grade.
That’s the way it’s been ever since. You can see them together on the field every Midway Panthers game — Jeff with his headset on and Sydney with a water bottle and a towel for her dad.
Coach Hulme was sitting in the shade at the Trib’s annual Photo Day back in July, and we started talking about the upcoming season. He grinned as he said that he wasn’t quite looking forward to it. After I asked him why, he grinned.
This is Sydney’s senior year. Friday’s game against Belton is their final regular season contest to share the sidelines.
As I walked up to the door outside the football offices at Midway, coach Hulme came outside to let me in. In the process, though, he let the door close behind him which locked us out. He quickly called Sydney to come let us in.
“Ugh Dad, so embarrassing,” she joked as we made our way into an office with plenty of pictures of the two of them, along with Sydney’s mom and Jeff’s wife, Mindi. For the next half hour, we spoke about their relationship, what football has meant to them and, as we got to talking about their final game and what next year holds for each of them, the room began to get a bit dusty if you know what I mean.
Krista: How did this all get started?
Jeff: Well, being an only child, I think ever since she was little bitty — now you speak up if I’m saying something wrong — she was a Daddy’s girl. This is a good picture of her after my first game as a head coach. She was three years old, about to turn four. I don’t think, have you missed a game?
Sydney: I’ve missed one and that’s it.
Jeff: That’s one game in 15 years as a head coach. That’s a lot of games. She, I think, we got to Mansfield when she was in first grade. That (picture) was in Sugar Land, we were there for four years. I think she started bugging me the next year about, ‘Hey Dad, can I come down there, can I come down there?’ I don’t think I necessarily said fifth grade. I think I put it at a height.
Sydney: Yeah, I had to be a certain height.
Jeff: I said, ‘If you reach a certain height, you can come down on the field.’ I don’t know why I said a height. I guess maybe she could get out of the way if somebody came down the sideline or something. I didn’t put a lot of thought into whether it was a grade. Mindi, my wife, wasn’t real excited about it. She was afraid of the sideline and getting run over and stuff. But she treated it like a job when she was younger. Not that she doesn’t now, but she took it very seriously. She would talk to the players. Sometimes even coach them. I didn’t ever hear about all of that because a lot of it was happening behind me. I did hear from one mom who talked to me the next day and said, ‘Hey, did Zach tell you what Sydney said told him?’ I said, ‘No,’ and she was like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ Zach Crabtree, went and started at right tackle at Oklahoma State and is 6-7, 300 pounds, she got right in his face and grabbed his facemask. I think it was against Cedar Hill. We needed a drive to win or run out the clock or something. She was trying to fire him up and all that. Zach told his mom about it. Little things like that. The players protected her when stuff would come to the sideline. It’s something that she was great at. It became something I leaned on, wanted her, needed her almost down there with me. It became more than she’s got a towel and some water for me. We talk all the time during the game. She can tell when I get frustrated. She’ll say something to me and get me back. Like last year playing Southlake Carroll, we jumped on them 21-0, but then they come back and tie it at 21. She’s down there saying, ‘Are we going to pull this out?’ I remember just looking at her and thinking, ‘I don’t know. We’ll find out.’ I turned out that we did. She’s like my confidant down there. I’m able to say and tell her things that I don’t get to say to a lot of people usually. It’s been fun for me.
Krista: So Sydney what was that first game like for you?
Sydney: It was fun. I was definitely nervous but I was excited because I finally got to be on the sideline of the big football field. That’s always what the older players were. Since I’m an only child, all those football players are like brothers. It was really cool to be down there with them and experience what they’re going through and not just be in the stands, because it is a lot different than being in the stands. I have not wanted to ever be in the stands ever since I’ve been on the field. I think that’s hard for a lot of people to believe because they’re like, ‘How come you don’t want to be in the student section’ or ‘Why don’t you want to be in the stands?’ It’s not something that’s appealing or something that I want to do. I feel like you’re not fully into the game, and you don’t fully watch. The game is actually really intense. You get to know the players as individuals. For some of them, this is their life. This is all they have. For other people it’s just fun, and they enjoy the camaraderie with their teammates. It’s fun to watch them grow and how they treat my dad, some of them, as their own dad. That’s really special to watch and see how much they impact him and he impacts them. It’s fun because we’ve definitely grown over the years of doing this. I always know which way he’s going to walk and what he needs. He doesn’t even have to say anything. It’s like, ‘OK, he needs a towel,’ which it’s normally a towel because he never drinks water even though he should.
Jeff: I do drink a little.
Sydney: We did start, two years ago, I would bring him Gatorade at the start of the fourth quarter to give him some more energy.
Jeff: Yeah, some electrolytes. One game I got dizzy or something in the second half. We figured out I got a little dehydrated. So we started, the start of the fourth quarter she’ll bring me a cup of Gatorade. It tastes really good because I’m thirsty by then. One thing I’m not allowed to do is take the paper cup, I have to take it, drink it and then give it back to her because she likes to squeeze (the cup) and crumple it up. I told her that she’s like a coach down there. There’s certain rules and things you have to follow, like what is said on the sideline is not repeated. Because coaches, we’re always evaluating kids. You don’t want something being said out of context that someone would take the wrong way, whether it’s a parent, another student or (Mindi). We certainly don’t tell Mom everything that goes on on the sideline. Mom knows that and is OK with that. I don’t think Mindi wants to know everything that goes on down there. It’s something we both have cherished and have grown accustomed to. … I do think Mindi sometimes can get left out in the cold. Ever since Sydney came down to the field — she’s not by herself because she sits with the coaches’ wives or my parents — but Mindi is an unbelievable mom and wife and woman. She’s the best coach’s wife out there because she puts up with us two. Sydney is very much like me which is double trouble for Mindi. She hasn’t allowed this to ruin her, ‘Oh, I want Sydney to sit with me.’ That hasn’t been a problem. She doesn’t look at it that way. … Mindi’s been the best. I think sometimes people just see Sydney and me down there but there’s always that person behind the scenes that makes everything really go. That’s certainly been her.
Sydney: I don’t think football would be the same in our family if we didn’t do this on Friday nights together.
Jeff: She used to ask me all the time, ‘Dad, don’t you wish I was a boy?’ My answer has always been no. I’m not just saying that. I’m around boys all the time. Her being an only child that’s a daughter has really, I think, made me a better coach because I look at things differently. She still gets to be down there with me. I think there’s so much pressure on coaches that have sons that play. The ones that do, my hat goes off to them. … The pressure on those boys is going to be tough because everybody’s going to look at them and say, ‘Oh, well they’re a coach’s kid so this and that’ regardless of if they know the kid works hard or plays hard. They don’t see that. All they see is that that’s the coach’s kid. Sydney has enough of that just in the school. The joys and experiences I get with her on the sidelines with me are second to none. That’s what’s going to make it hard next year when she goes to college. It’s going to be incredibly difficult. I don’t even want to talk about that right now.
Krista: What has been each of your favorite memories on the sideline together?
Jeff: Well, I think, any playoff game with her down there makes it that much more special. Obviously when you win, those are fun because she’s down there. Win or lose. Like this screensaver I have on my computer, this is during the Cedar Hill playoff game my first year here. Obviously that was a loss, but having her with me through the wins and losses is something special. You’re down there after a lot of the games interviewing me, and she’s right there (beside me). I love being able to experience those wins and losses with her. The win against Longview last year in the wind and the rain and the cold was unbelievable. The same can be said about the state championship game, we lost but it was still an unbelievable experience and feeling with her right there beside me. I don’t know if there’s just one particular time. They’ve all been pretty neat to me.
Sydney: I have a lot of moments, and it happens throughout the whole game. Before the game starts, I will point out where my mom sits and where his parents sit because they come to every game which is really special. Then we’ll do the flag. My dad will sing the National Anthem.
Jeff: Oh yeah, I do sing the National Anthem. I’m not a great singer. That’s one of my favorite parts of the game. I do sing it every time. Now I’m not belting it out. But I sing it loud enough where she can hear it and I can hear it.
Jeff: I’m not going to be trying out for The Voice any time soon.
Sydney: And then we walk all the way to the other side where the players are. We’ll say, ‘Good luck,’ and then I’ll usually squat down with my water bottle because I get nervous. Then he stands up, has his arms crossed and is looking down the field like there’s something there, but there’s not. Then the kick will go, and we’ll stand up and do our thing, pace back and forth. We don’t have to say anything, but we know. We can read each other’s minds. … Then at the end of the game, he’ll go and shake the head coach’s hand. Then I’ll run up to him and give him a big hug.
Jeff: Tell Krista what we say after we score the very first time.
Sydney: At least we won’t get shut out.
Jeff: I think we started that several years ago at Mansfield. I think it’s funny because my last year at Mansfield we played Midway at Mansfield. I think Midway scored on the first play of the game. Sam Glaesmann threw a long pass to, I think, Joe Ward. It was right down our sideline, and I remember thinking, ‘Well, there we go.’ Once we scored, we started that tradition where we look at each other and go, ‘Yes, we’re not going to be shut out.’ Little victories, we’ve got to take those sometimes. It’s sort of funny, silly.
Krista: How has football and all of this helped your relationship?
Jeff: Syd and I have always been close. I mean, really close. We’re a very tight daddy-daughter team. I think, as a dad to an only child, I think just it’s the moments for that time, whether on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday whenever the games are, that three, three and a half hour time block when it’s just her and me. Even though there’s people around and the team’s there, those are moments for me that are second to none. Because she is as grown up around it. Both her granddads played college football. It’s something that’s in her and she wants to maybe explore in college and beyond. I think she’d be excellent at it. She knows as much about the game as coaches I’ve had on my staffs before. The older I get, the more sentimental I get about it too. I realize how fast time goes. I try to tell my team that. They’re like typical teenagers but the next thing they know, it’s over. I haven’t wished any game to hurry up because I know how special this season is with her and me. From my point of view, I’ve wanted time to slow down, at least for these games. I remember what it was like to be a senior in high school. I remember how fun it was and how ready you are to go off. I’m not naïve to not think about that as well. What do you think?
Sydney: Well, I definitely think that it’s helped our relationship, but we’ve always been close. Like, crazy close. I do call him my best friend. I know a lot of high schoolers are like, ‘That’s weird.’ But it’s really not. I talk to him about school, tennis (the sport she plays), football, boys. I can talk to him about literally everything. There’s not a single time he hasn’t been there. He’s supported me with every decision that I’ve made in my, like, career I guess. I definitely don’t know what either one of us is going to do next year. I love senior year, love it. I’ve also started to get a little nervous about going to the University of Mississippi because that’s nine hours away. I’ve never been that far from my best friend. We talk on phone the daily. We go get donuts every Friday morning since first grade. We’re still going to do that when I’m in college. We’ll just FaceTime each other. I think the donut store people will think that’s weird, but that’s OK. He’s always said to not wish that you’re older or younger or anything. I’ve always done a good job of that.
Krista: How are y’all feeling as Friday is the final regular season game?
Jeff: What makes it better is knowing we’re at least guaranteed one more in the playoffs. If we weren’t in the playoffs and tomorrow was it, I think it’d be a different feeling. In the playoffs, we won’t know when our last game is, unless we go all the way again. I think it being a home game is going to be great. Playing against a very quality opponent in Belton is going to make it an intense game, which I think is more fun, more memorable for sure. What’s funny is I think I’ve gotten more emotional this year at the pep rallies than the games because I realize pep rallies are numbered. I see her up there with her friends at the pep rally doing what kids do and having a great time. That’s been really emotional for me. I slip out of the gym right before it’s over. I don’t want anyone to see me. It’s going to be, I don’t know. It’ll be a difficult time, not in a bad way. Knowing that that part’s over.
Sydney: I’ve been thinking about it a lot, but we still have a guaranteed one game left with playoffs. Hopfully the boys will pull it out for us. I definitely think district is huge for us but not as big as playoffs because you’re always unsure about if you’ll win or not. … That’ll be hard for both of us. I honestly don’t remember what it’s like not to be on the field with my dad. We have such a close bond and relationship that every one in this school and town knows that. That’s really special. They’re always like, ‘I see you walking with your dad step for step.’ It’s our time together. That’s my only guaranteed time with him during the week because football is the best thing. That’s my time with him. The last district game is going to be hard, but I think the week after will be much harder. It’s very special. I don’t think I’m actually prepared for it.
Jeff: That’s the hard part about growing up. It’s like my senior football players’ parents. If they have another one coming up it’s easier. But if it’s their last one, it sort of ends a chapter. That’s the way we try to look at it. We’re not closing the book on anything. It’s just the end of a chapter. … You’re still writing your book. Even though it’s a great chapter, I don’t want it to be the best chapter because Sydney is going to go on to unbelievable things. She’s going to do great things. This is just a small chapter in that. But, we’re in that chapter right now. We’re too anxious for it to end too quickly.