I grew up in Texas. The land of cattle, oil, cotton, and open skies: a land rich in history and natural resources. I am almost 60 years old now and upon reflection I believe my most favorite course I ever had in over 20 years of education was my 7th grade Texas history course. It was also in 7th grade that I initiated myself into another Texas tradition called football. At least that is when I began playing on an organized level. Have you ever wanted something so bad it was like wishing for treasure; like a treasure hunt. Unfortunately, some treasure hunts such as my quest to become a football player do no always end well,
Prior to that, when I was about seven years old, my three brothers and I got football uniforms for Christmas; football helmets, shoulder pads, jerseys, the whole outfit. We had a spacious backyard and we often played there. There was an abundance of boys in the neighborhood who also had uniforms so they also joined us. I really enjoyed it and dreamed of being a football player. Occasionally Dad would take us to high school games on Friday nights. It was fun to stay up late under the bright lights.
In 1966 my time arrived. I do not remember much about my first day of school in junior high, but I do remember a lot of guys going out for football. We were lined up in the gym in our underwear to get the required physical. They had to check for hernias which meant the doctor pushing in a sensitive spot and asking us each to cough. Even to this day I hate physical exams, especially with the prostate check at my age. The showers were just big open stalls with many dozens of us crammed in there together. I had dreamed of playing football, but had never given one thought to the smelly nasty locker rooms. I also realized after sizing up the other boys that many were bigger. I was too busy at the time to give it much thought.
I was hopeful my speed would make up the difference for lack of size, but unfortunately, I was not blessed in that capacity either. The weeks passed and we had our first game. Mom and Dad showed up and I was ashamed that I had little to show for my efforts as I was second string and played little, if any. The season worn on and not only did my team not win a single game, we only scored six points all season. I did enjoy learning the intricacies of the game, especially offensive and defensive formations. I also hoped I would get bigger.
The next year we turned it around, not losing a single game. I hesitate to say we because I was still on the bench. Mom dropped out of coming: I did not blame her. The following year as I entered high school I still had my hopes of someday playing under the Friday night lights. Actually, one of the worst years of my life was about to begin.
The coaches had high expectations for us since we had come out of junior high doing well. Many players have positive experiences in athletics, notably football. That was not to be my experience. I found the coaches to be domineering, insensitive, and not very effective. The joy I had in learning offensive and defensive schemes was diminished as we seemed to be doing the same things year in and year out. To this day I can think of very little encouragement we received from the coaches and a lot of belittling comments. We won most and we lost some. Dad quit coming as I was still a bench warmer. Little do people realize how hard the second stringers work during the week. I felt like an expendable commodity. It would not have bothered coach one bit if a second stringer got injured. I stuck around for one more year of what we call the junior varsity. I did not bother to try out for varsity as I knew I would be wasting my time and theirs; four years was enough.
I suppose the coaches were young and did the best they could. To this day I have very little respect for them. I think they may have been pretty good players when they were college students and in some ways seemed frustrated they were not pro athletes. I learned a lot from football, a lot about life so to speak: Discipline in exercise and eating, commitment to a team, the desire to compete, to keep going when things are not easy. Unfortunately, there is a price to pay for most things. I was not injured seriously, so that was good. However, I will never be as trusting of authority as I was the first few years of football. Every since then I do not like to be around domineering people, and often show disdain for bully type personalities, which is what many coaches were. I do not miss wearing the uniform. I wish I could say it missed me, but I am not sure it ever knew I was there. Some treasure hunts are no fun.