By Sheryl McAlister
The images are burned into my mind.
I have the photographs, of course. But the memories are far better. Or worse…. Depending on how I think about it. One year ended in a win. The other did not.
Loss, however, so deeply woven in both that the difference, initially, was hard to detect.
His unbeaten team had just won the state championship. For the first time in school history. Fifty years since the school district had won a football championship.
He stood there by himself – proud. Older. Battle weary. But not broken, although forces that were completely out of his control tried mightily to do so. The look on his face a seeming reflection of all that his young life had been the past two and a half years. And all that had been lost.
The thrill of victory juxtaposed against a year that had taken far more from him than it had given.
He hugged his girlfriend, a cheerleader and as steadfast a companion as a young man could hope for. Ballast. He hugged his coaches and teammates. And then it hit him, and the tears came. The exhaustion and grief manifested in a release so powerful it broke my heart. As proud as he was, the two people he wanted to share it with were gone.
Little more than 24 hours earlier he had delivered a eulogy at his good friend’s funeral. The cacophony of emotions so intense, it was difficult to comprehend his ability to re-focus on the championship game. Just 10 months earlier, he had lost his dad to cancer.
As quickly as the sorrow had ambushed him, it was replaced by elation over what his team had just accomplished. What he had been a part of. What was now a part of him. He had fallen in love in more ways than one this football season. And it would be another nine months before this team would be together again.
They started his senior season with a dream and a promise to repeat. The team had every shot at a second straight championship. But when the final buzzer sounded, they ended up on the wrong side. The season over. The sadness palpable. Their young hearts and minds left to wonder what might have been.
A high school football team hopes to have Thanksgiving morning practice. For those uninitiated in this ritual, it means the team survived to play another game. This Thanksgiving night, when he had hoped to be preparing for a second straight championship, he was alone on a South Carolina beach running football drills. A beach towel and a stack of water bottles were the only accessories on this otherwise isolated stretch of sand.
His blessing, earlier that day, at Thanksgiving lunch included gratitude for what he had and a request for guidance in his life’s next chapter. He wished his teammates well in a pre-holiday post. He wrote: “I never thought I would fall in love with a sport like this. The game impacted me in so many ways, and I wouldn’t have changed anything about that journey, all the memories and relationships I’ve made (that) will last a lifetime… We always made it more than football, and I wouldn’t have wanted to end it with any other team. Ready for the next chapter. #4-out.”
Perspective … is a powerful thing.
2021 Copyright. Sheryl McAlister.