Thirty some odd boys

Published 11:54 am Friday, October 6, 2023

Growing up in a ‘baseball family,’ I never really had a fondness for football, so when my editor asked me to cover local football games, I was not exactly thrilled about the task. 

Knowing virtually nothing about the sport, I felt thrust into the world of Friday night lights, doing my best to write about football games without revealing my lack of technical terminology to our readers. 

Sports coverage has found me talking often with coaches and meeting athletes, while researching and learning about a sport I previously had no interest in. 

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As part of the effort I found myself at a local football game, passionately cheering for the underdog team that I have worked with every week for the last few months. And, for the first time in my life, I understood how my late grandmother felt when the Auburn game was on the television.

Thirty-some-odd boys took the field that Friday night, knowing the odds were stacked against them and the other team had the upper hand. Without a cheerleader or band member in sight, they showed up with heads held high, ready to give their all and proud that someone from the newspaper had come to watch them play.

My husband and I looked around in awe at the amount of fans who poured into the home stands to watch their team play, and my heart ached for the visiting boys who had come with virtually no support from their community. I turned to my husband and told him how badly I wanted to go to my car and get my daughter’s pom poms so I could properly cheer them on. 

No matter how I felt about either team before that game started, I walked out of that stadium with a changed heart, full of fury on behalf of thirty-some-odd boys who deserved better.

The young athletes had listened to their opponents’ taunts and disrespect  for four full quarters. A team of boys with their backs against the wall kept playing with heads held high as the opposing team’s athletes went out of their way to humiliate the visitors at every given chance, even though the defenders had created  a winning landslide early in the game. The things they shouted were so vile I was embarrassed to have even heard them.

The visiting team never responded to the taunts. Thirty-some-odd boys continued playing, continued fighting, and continued to be respectful no matter what insults were hurled at them.

As the home team’s band played their victory song so loudly it was hard to think straight, thirty-some-odd boys, with heads still held high, made their last trip onto the field to shake hands and pass out “good game” comments to the ones who had spent the last two hours absolutely berating them just for showing up.

I waddled to my car with tears welling in my eyes, partially because of the pregnancy hormones ravaging my body, but mostly because thirty-some-odd boys, the underdogs, showed more class, respect, and sportsmanship in a game their opponent had scheduled expecting to win, than I had ever seen before. 

I had never been quite so proud of thirty-some-odd boys – boys I had never even met until three months ago. 

The team went home, shook it off, and started preparing for their next game with no time to harp on the loss they had just suffered. Those student-athletes have no idea the impact they had on a small town reporter that night. 

I implore parents and coaches of student-athletes to speak with their children about sportsmanship. Teach them about the golden rule we all know so well. Encourage them to treat others the way they would like to be treated.

If you won’t do it for me, do it for them and for those thirty-some-odd boys.