Monday, November 7, 2011

Senior Night

Friday night, November 4, was one that I have both looked forward to and dreaded for many years.  My "boy of fall", my eighteen year old son, Brian David, would play his last game at "home" at Archbishop Spalding and one of the very last games of his long, thirteen season football career. 

Brian couldn't wait to start playing football.  At the time, Anne Arundel County was starting it's first year of 65lb ball, the youngest they had ever had, and Brian was so excited to start!  A friend of my husband's called and asked him to help coach and there you had it...history in the making! Coach Baublitz began his long and successful football coaching career, leading his son and "running the table" through his football years.

 From that late summer day in 1999 to this late fall evening in 2011, my son has put his heart and soul into more games than I can count.  He started out at 42lbs, small but full of fire. There was never a player he feared, no matter their size. He played his entire rec ball "career" at the Pasadena Chargers and played only one of those years without his dad's coaching, although dad was still coaching nearby.  He was number 11 for those first two years, but soon chose number 13 and stuck with it until high school.  He was a quarterback by 85lb and led his team with confidence, gaining the respect of players who were much bigger and stronger, but few knew the game as well as he did.  I have fond memories of my two Brians on the field in their Charger black and gold, having huddles and talks, getting and giving plays and practicing long into the twilight and early evening from July through November.  My husband found his calling in coaching and my son found his passion on the field and I was proud of both of them when I watched what unfolded through the years.  I always knew that my husband would coach all his players with fun and safety in mind, fair, but tough. Winning was important, but self discipline and fundamentals were the core. My son learned well and played by the rules, never playing "dirty".  He lost with grace and won with dignity. He was, very often, the smallest kid on that field, but he also was, very often, the kid with the very biggest heart. Some memories that stick out in my mind...
  • Way back when, in 1999, our little 65lb team played their first scrimmage.  It was against the "big" 75lb kids and it was just starting to get dark at Lake Waterford.  My little blond haired, blue eyed sweetheart, never before in a football game, took his first hit and went flying backward 10 yards.  As he crumpled to the ground I felt two hands on my shoulders and a voice in my ear that said "stay here".  I wanted to sprint onto the field and scoop him up and hug him.  But my boy, with all the swagger he could muster, pulled himself up, wiped off the blood from his lip and got back into the huddle.   I will never know who it was that stopped me from embarrassing my son that evening, but whoever you are, thank you.  My son needed to realize that he could take the hit and get back on his feet.  From that day on, he was never afraid.  He took many, many hits and flew back many, many yards, but by the grace of God, he always got right back up onto his feet and got right back into that huddle.
  • Practices at Lake Waterford...all of them.  Beginning in mid July we sideline moms would haul out our chairs, bring our coffee and pick up where we left off the following year.  Some moms came and others went, but there were alot of friendships made along the way.  Barb, Jackie R., Jackie B., Carol, know who you are.  We sat in the scorching heat, hung out when the leaves began to fall and huddled under blankets as November neared.  Our boys, at the beginning, came to us to put on their pads, snap their helmets and help them with gloves.  By the end, we were only there because we couldn't bear to miss it.  They surely didn't need us for help anymore.  They went from being small and cute with missing teeth and skinned up knees to gangly preteens, not quite comfortable in their new longer arms and legs  Then, toward the end, they left a boy and returned almost a man.  Mustaches were sprinkled in with straight teeth and stylish hair.  Biceps, pecs and quads all bulged against their pads.  It was all so bittersweet, but I wouldn't have missed one moment.
  • The game at GORC, when the boys were about nine years old.  It was freezing cold and pouring rain.  There were tents set up and heaters and between plays the boys would try to thaw out, but it was futile.  We parents held umbrellas and, soaked to the bone, cheered for our boys, but in the end, they lost, and I will forever remember the sad little faces looking up at my husband as he gave his speech, tears mixed with raindrops and water actually puddling up and pouring out of their shoes.  Those kids gave their heart and soul each and every game and it always hurt when they walked away empty handed.
  • Charger traditions...most made by Coach Brian.  Back In Black playing on the sound system, or Thunderstruck. Everything and everyone decked out in black and gold. "Locker room" talks, where all parents were "banned", that were really only benches down by the lake where the coaches pumped the boys up and the boys confessed their hopes and fears.  One of my favorite traditions was when the team would line up at home games and come onto the field as one, helmets on, holding hands.  That gave me chills every time! We all had a complete wardrobe of black and gold and when Dakota came along in 2004 he got mini sized shirts to wear.  He was on the field for the first time at four days old and he learned to walk on the field, pushing his walking toy out onto the fields to try to do the warm up exercises with the boys. 
There were many friends made on the field over the years, as well as on the sidelines.  Coaches and kids formed a bond that still is strong so many years later.  It is true what they say in that Kenny Chesney song The Boys of Fall..."you mess with one man, you got us all".  They were brothers on the field.  They were one. And all these years later, they still embrace and talk about their Charger pride. There is a sense of loyalty and discipline on a football field and a sense of brotherhood that prevails long after they have played their last game under the lights. Football may be just a game, but there are alot of life's lessons sprinkled throughout and most players take what they have learned on the field and use it wisely as they move on with their lives.

And who could forget the Anne Arundel County championship, played at Navy Stadium, that last year with the 135lb team.  Those boys worked so hard to get there and that night, under the lights, they won it all.  The emotions were so high and I will never, ever forget it.  My husband and my son found each other first and hugged each other tight before hugging everyone else on the field.  Brian David's picture was in the Baltimore Sun, being lifted high by another teammate.  He is beaming and you can see it all written on his face.  We called the paper and had a color copy of that picture mailed to us and it remains framed and hung on his bedroom wall, reminding us all of the thrill of that Charger championship.

And then came high school. It was the first time that father and son would play for different teams.  I think it was important for our son to know that he could play ball and pull his own weight because he was a good player, not because he was the coach's son.  Brian was a captain for the Cardinal Gibbons Crusader JV team and he wore his colors with pride.  The school was small and the field lacked many of the bells and whistles of some of the other schools, but those boys loved football and they loved each other.  Red and white became our colors of choice and I loved parking my car and walking towards that field, seeing my son and his teammates warming up.  I will always remember riding along the road that runs above the football field and looking down at the boys in their uniforms, getting ready for the big game.  We made some new friends and some new memories, and just when we were ready to move to the varsity level, our school closed and we had to find another home. 

Since everything happens for a reason and our school's closing was excruciatingly painful and full of questionable reasoning, maybe the stars lined up in this partiular way so that father and son could play together again.  For his junior and senior years, Brian David was once again on his father's team.  Red and white were still our colors, but we were no longer Crusaders.  We were the Spalding Cavaliers.  We took some time to adjust, feeling like intruders at first in an unfamiliar world, but Brian soon fit right in with his new teammates and he had two interceptions in his junior year...the highlight of his time at Spalding.  And, once again, these well coached young men made it to the championship and I screamed and cheered and basked in the glow when my husband and son won yet another victory, finding each other and then scaling the walls to hug the family and friends that had come to watch.  Some kids never get to experience one season of glory.  We are truly blessed that Brian David has had more glory than most.  He embraces each and every moment and, if anyone deserves it, he does.  He is such a wonderful kid and it all means so much to him.

So here we are, back at senior night. Time to leave the past behind and embrace the present.  Our Spalding team went into the A conference this year and the competition has been fierce, but we have perservered.  Brian hasn't gotten a ton of playing time, but he has gotten enough and he is okay with it.  Friday night was his senior night, his last home game, possibly his last game ever.  We parents made banners and posters, commemorating the boy that was and the man that is.  They got special black jerseys with their names on the back.  It was all first class.  And there I was, lined up along the sidelines with all the other parents of seniors, waiting for my son to join me and for me to participate in the ceremony that I have witnessed over and over through the years.  It was surreal.  This couldn't really be happening, could it?  Was my baby really this handsome young man who was coming over to take my arm.  And then my beautiful son, in his shoulder pads and uniform, escorted his dad, little brother and I onto the field and we stood among the other families and had our moment.  We all turned to face the screen and a video played, highlighting each senior's achievements on the field, Boys of Fall playing on the screen.  I didn't cry.  I thought I would.  Lord knows I have cried enough in the days leading up to this.  But instead, I felt incredible pride.  My son had his arm around me and tears in his bright blue eyes as we sang the song softly and watched the screen.  It was all over so fast.  The boys broke and all started to run to the rest of the team, but almost as one, they all turned back around and hugged their families...and then they were gone, off to play the game.  My beautiful boy.  And once again, against mighty odds, he was given one more incredible memory when his team beat Loyola in overtime and they lived to fight together one more time.  I have video of my husband and son kneeling together, saying a prayer, heads bowed as that final play was made.  As they realized we scored they went running onto the field and into the arms of their teammates and then, through the lens of the camera, I watched them find each other and come running back out, my son lifted high in my husband's arms. And then back they went again.  How incredibly sweet this sport of football has been in our lives.  How incredibly blessed we are.

And so, we have another game.  Possibly only one more.  But I have made my peace with it now and I am ready....that's a lie.  I will never be ready.  But I am more ready than I was before.  God, bless this boy.  Keep him safe as you so graciously have done throughout each of his thirteen seasons.  Allow him to appreciate the game and the team and to store away those memories in a place where he can have easy access whenever he wants to reminisce.  Brian David, I am so incredibly proud of you.  You will always be my football hero, my boy of fall, and I will forever remember each and every memory that you have given to me over the years.  I love you!

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