Surviving the end of high school athletics

ED THOMPSON

When it comes to recalling my athletic exploits, the axiom is true: “The older I get, the better I used to be.” The truth is, however, most of my athletic memories involve hospital rooms, casts, crutches and extra strength Tylenol. I had a heart for football, but knees for X-box.

My wife, Jenn, never actually saw me play football when we were students at Wheaton College. She did, however, visit me in the hospital where I slightly embellished how I sustained my season-ending knee ligament tear. If memory serves, it was whilst tossing a perfect 127-yard touchdown pass between eight defenders while being tackled by 14 rabid linebackers, the opposing team coaches, and a few cheerleaders. It was quite a play.

I exchanged my football cleats for a seat in the bleachers long ago. And what a great seat it has been. Front row and center for the past 12 years; a constant barrage of football, soccer, basketball, volleyball, baseball games and practices. But then, in an instant, it came to a jolting stop. Our youngest played his last high school game and suddenly it was all over.

We knew this day was coming; it had to. It took a slow, inevitable route beginning with our oldest. I distinctly remember his last high school football game and the slow, agonizing walk off the field. Shoulders were slouched giving way to heavy sobs. And my son wasn’t doing much better, either. But when our eldest son’s high school athletic career came to an end, we still had two more to cheer on. That meant our calendar remained full of football, soccer, basketball, volleyball and baseball. Then suddenly, my daughter’s soccer games were over; then her volleyball. The writing was on the wall the entire time, but with one kid still in the system, the business continued. Then, on a normal day, our last high school game was played and, just like that, it was over.

Erma Bombeck said she took a very practical view on raising children. She put a sign in each of their rooms which read, “Checkout time is 18 years.” My wife continues to remind me that our job as parents is to prepare our children for “checkout time.” As custodians of God’s prized possessions, we hope and pray that we’ve filled them with confidence, dreams, determination, and faith and trust in a loving God. When checkout time arrives, the ones with the biggest adjustments are often us parents. We go from years of whirlwind activity to the unfamiliar territory of calm and quiet. Suddenly, it’s just the two of us again and that’s both exciting and a little scary, too.

As it turns out, hanging out with my wife is pretty awesome. And to my great relief, I think she likes hanging out with me, too. So, it appears we’re going to survive the end of high school athletics. And if our recent trip out west is any indication, this new chapter in our lives is going to be rather fun and exciting. Today, highlighted on our calendars, are those wonderful college break visits and vacation days. And of course, just because they’ve “checked out”, doesn’t mean they won’t be visiting. After all, right next to that “checkout” sign is another sign that reads “welcome home”.

P.S. To our great delight, our youngest is continuing his athletic career at the University of Miami. We have many football and baseball games yet to enjoy.

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