After reading the article here, about Wheaton football and being at the freshman game last night, I was inspired to dust off my Wheaton Patch blogging skills and talk about how I see football in this town.
I am a football mom. Through and through. I have four kids. Two are football players, one is a cheerleader at the football games and one is growing up on the bleachers and living on concession food.
For the last seven years, you'd be able to find me at Rams' football games every weekend from the end of August to sometimes the beginning of November. I have been a football widow for just as long because Leo, my husband, coached Nico all the way through the Rams' program and is now coaching Tommy. I love our town's football program. I love that it takes these little boys with big dreams and grows them into big boys with more of that dream. I love that it is both coaches from the North side and the South side working together to make these boys better players.
On both of Nico and Tommy's teams you would have found kids on our side extending a hand to a kid they just tackled. It wasn't always well-received. We've had towns refuse to shake our hands after we won. We've had players that refuse to stop the play after the whistle is blown but not our boys. These coaches have not only taught these kids how to be good football players but they have also taught them how to be good people. We've had our own missteps over the years. Winning by a lot and trying to get different kids in different positions and accidentally winning by more. Players that the emotion of the game got to them and lost their temper (and then sitting out as punishment for that behavior). When working with kids, that is going to happen but our coaches turn those missteps into teachable moments.
My son, Nico, is a freshman and plays for Wheaton North. It's been a whole new experience at the high school level. The intensity of the game that I felt when he was playing for the Rams was multiplied. Every kid that wanted to play football but couldn't because they were too big to play for the park district, now plays. Bigger kids means stronger kids and that sometimes leads to injuries. I saw my son, who has always loved this game, embrace the position that his coaches put him in and I saw him mature into someone that was going to work hard to be the best he could be. I saw him push himself to the brink of exhaustion with all that he has to deal with plus school and practice. I saw him come alive on that field and walk off smiling at a job well done. I saw him celebrating every one of his teammates personal victories (tackles, touchdowns or interceptions) and in those moments it felt so much bigger than just the game of football.
He puts that jersey on and it means something to him. It means he is a part of something bigger than just him. Sometimes bigger than the game itself. There is a shared experience among the players. That kid that you see across the hall, he was running side by side you when you had to run laps. That other kid, that you don't have any classes with and might not have met otherwise, he's become a good friend because you both play defense, banding together to defeat the other team. I love that for him.
When he played for the Rams, his team was split: half going to Wheaton North and half going to Wheaton Warrenville South. Last night he played his former teammates. He lost sleep over it because it doesn't seem natural to have to tackle someone that has played next to you for the last seven years. Wheaton North ended up winning 20-0 but what that score doesn't show is how tough a battle it was. With the weather not cooperating, it made the game a nail-biter. There were bad snaps, fumbles and rain getting in the way of plays that normally work well. I am at every freshman game for WN so I see the talent that we have. Last night I saw that WWS has some amazing talent on their team as well. One thing stood out to me. Wheaton is a force to be reckoned with. ALL of Wheaton.
I am not naive enough to think that it will always be this way but for now it feels pretty good that the Wheaton North guys are still friends with the Wheaton South guys. That the parents still hugged and wished each other's kids well. That after the game, they shook hands and said, "Nice game." The camaraderie that they had last year led to a respect this year. There was no hate just because your house falls on either side of the line. I've known some of the boys on WWS's team since they were seven years old. I love those boys. Nico has played on baseball teams and been friends with them just as long. Those are his buddies. That doesn't just go away because they go to rival schools. At least it shouldn't.