My friend Tommy Smith from down the street talked me into it in the fall of 1968, and I haven’t been the same since.
“You can do it man,” he said. “Sign up for football at the school.” He meant Fifth Avenue Elementary School in our home town of Huntsville, Ala., but it could have happened in Pickens County or Anderson County or anywhere.
All over the country 4th graders like Tommy Smith and I and 8 and Under players like the Liberty Raiders and Wren Hurricanes of today strive to do something on a field of battle, the local Rec. football league.
Tommy was the wise adviser in my football experience. After all, his dad played football for what would later be our high school. Tommy had his own real leather football. He could rattle off football terms like 48, 27, 53, – hike!
He could call plays like – right half-back up the middle, right-half back left. Tommy was all knowing.
“You need to beef up some,” he advised. “You want to play on the 65-pound team.”
His words created images of greatness and a 65-pound team made in the image of the NFL.
“Go home,” he charged.
“Have a hamburger. Have two hamburgers,” I heard as I charged off up the street to home and my mother’s cooking.
I did play for the 65-pound team. I was right halfback and Tommy was the bullheaded fullback, stout and mean.
We were a lousy team. Forget about how many games we won. We scored only one touchdown the entire season. That really ended my football career before I made it to the 5th grade.
Despite the humiliating losses there were lessons learned that I hope can be remembered by the guys on teams like the Liberty Raiders who played in the Liberty Invitational 2013 Youth Football Challenge.
Lessons like: It is important to strive for a goal.
It is difficult to conceive of meeting a goal if you have never aimed at one. That goes for any goal, whether it be beating the 65-pound team from Weatherly Elementary School or writing the best game story or selling $20,000 in advertising next month. Unless you’ve set a goal you don’t know what you have to do to overcome it. You don’t know what it feels like to slug through those tasks to get the goal. You have to know how it feels.
And lessons like: What it is like to beat back mind games.
The afternoon before the Weatherly Elementary game, the word went out at Fifth Avenue Elementary School. It could be the same at Liberty Elementary with talk about the Wren team.
“Weatherly boys are big,” they said on the playground. I envisioned high schoolers. “Weatherly boys will break your arm,” they said. I saw my arm in a cast like the one that Tommy had in third grade. That night I came down with an ailment that my father knew was stress related, but he nor I nor the coach could do anything about it. The problem was in my head not their’s.
The lessons are good ones and many boys owe thanks to coaches on youth league teams whose names they won’t remember 10, 20, 40 years later.
They are coaches like Liberty Recreation Department’s Chip Teague, Jacob Black, Clayton Chastain Scott Martin and Steve Rhodes and team moms like Carmen Rhodes. Children all over the world owe a thank you to these coaches and thousands of men and women who spend hours and weeks and years making the lessons possible.