Life's not a spectator sport

Rick Ryckeley's picture

There’s crispness in the air once again that can only mean one thing – it’s football time!

Future superstars in elementary and high schools took to the fields around our fair county last month. Practices now grind on for hours and hours, long after the other students have gone. Once finally back home, tired football players wolf down dinner and then struggle to finish piles of homework before falling asleep. Some things haven’t changed in 40 years.

Through it all, devoted parents shuffle players from home to practice and then back home again. And in between, they sit — sweating on hard bleachers while they watch their loved ones get battered and bruised. At night, they hold their noses while doing countless loads of dirty football laundry.

They, too, participate in this sport of football, but I must admit, even I didn’t recognize parent’s contribution until The Boy started playing.

It’s been a long time since I wore the black and gold of a Buccaneer, longer still since the Flamingo Street Raiders’ red and black. But some things haven’t changed.

But some things have.

Coach Reeves was the head coach at Briarwood High School, home of the Mighty Buccaneers. When it came to the game of football, he had only one rule. Everyone plays every game. He believed that it wasn’t whether you won or lost, but how you played that really mattered. After all, it was just a game. Winning to him wasn’t what was essential. There was something else much more important.

For five years I had the honor of wearing the black and gold of a Buccaneer. And each year I played football on the dust bowl of a vacant lot Coach Reeves call a practice field.

Before practice could begin each afternoon, 35 players lined up across the dust bowl and slowly walked from one end to the other picking up rocks, cans, and retrieving the 10 or so tires out from the woods where some kids had rolled them the night before.

I’m not admitting to anything, but I really didn’t like those tire drills.

For five years in the Georgia humidity we were battered, beaten, and taught that once you got knocked down, you got back up — no matter the pain.

Each year Coach Reeves asked more of us. Each year he raised the bar higher. By the time we were seniors, we grew to think (out of that gray gritty dust, handfuls of salt tablets, and no water breaks) that we were invincible. Coach had molded us into hard-nosed football players. At least that’s what we thought he had done.

Through all the one-on-one tackling drills, tire runs, and endless wind sprints at the end of every practice, something else was happening right under our noses, but none of us could see it.

Now, I understand. There was a larger game at stake. A larger game Coach Reeves was preparing us for. One he intended for all of us not only to play, but to win.
Life’s not a spectator sport. Not at any age. Coach Reeves told us that everyone plays. If you get knocked down, get back up. No matter what.

For the last two weeks, my Dad has worked refurbishing bathrooms at his church. At 83, he’s still playing the game, setting a good example, and raising the bar for the rest of us. If he were asked, I’m sure Coach Reeves would say that Dad has not only won the game, he’s a true champion and an inspiration to us all.

[Rick Ryckeley, who lives in Senoia, has been a firefighter for more than two decades and a columnist for The Citizen since 2001. His email is saferick@bellsouth.net.]