When you call your mom and she answers the phone in tears, it’s a little unsettling.
I called her to talk about wedding plans, and instead, she told me in broken sentences that my brother wouldn’t be playing in his football game tonight because he was contact traced.
Now, before I get any further into this, I don’t blame anyone. We feel terribly for the person and their family who “exposed” Jake.
But I can picture my family right now gathered in the living room. Jake is sitting in the chair, my mom is on the floor by the fire place, and my dad is on the couch with our dog in his lap. They’re watching the livestream of the game on the TV.
That stupid chair. Jake has spent way too much time there. First when he damaged his knee in 7th grade, only to have surgery on it the next year. He worked hard, did the rehab, and he bounced back. He was strong and speedy and like six inches taller.
Then he broke his ankle. He missed out on a majority of his freshman basketball and baseball seasons. He’s been carrying our family to our deductible for the last four years like a champ.
Because of all of that, has spent so much time in that chair. I honestly don’t like sitting in it because it makes me think of how many days he would lay in it without showering.
Finally, he was making his comeback. He was strong and healthy, probably even another few inches taller. His sophomore basketball season was great. The team gave the community something to cheer for. Those boys were so talented and fun to watch.
And then, the night of the district final, their season was canceled.
And tonight, hours before his district semifinal for his junior football season, he was told he couldn’t play.
Two shots at a district final in two sports in one year stripped away.
Now, believe me, I know there’s more to life than sports. I know there are way bigger issues in this world than high school football and I feel terrible for families who’ve been hurt by everything that 2020 has brought us.
But right now, I’m looking at my brother and I see that football is more than just a game. I’m looking at a 16-year-old boy who just wants a chance to play the sport he loves. I see a boy who works hard and tries his best to eat protein instead of chips like his mom tells him to. I see the boy who is excited to tell his dad how proud he is when he reaches a new weight.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: We need high school sports.
I don’t have answers. I don’t write this in hope of causing change. I don’t know what to do. Most of us don’t.
I just know we can’t keep living like this. Sports are just one of the many things we’ve lost this last year. And I know they might not be the most important, but just last week, I was driving home listening to Jake’s game on the radio and it was great.
I heard a crowd cheering in the background. I heard enthusiasm in the announcers. I heard something that felt normal.
And as I cruised along I-69, I saw exit signs for Richmond and Almont and all the other schools I competed against in high school. I smiled as I thought of cross country meets at Goodells County Park. I was so proud when I thought of district championships won in Yale.
High school athletics give you memories that you don’t just think about, but you feel. Your heart starts to race a little bit when you remember the clock counting down. You can’t help but smile when you think of the time you succeeded. You wince a little when you think of the blunder that cost you the game.
Kids across the country are missing out on moments like those. Communities are missing out on the opportunity to come together and celebrate.
Sports bring us together. There are people who don’t like each other in the same town, that’s just life and it happens. But on any given Friday night and you ask either of them who they’re cheering for, they’re going to say the home team.
I love my hometown because of the support and family-like community we have, and a lot of it began around sports, but has extended far beyond that. Families with kids on the same team don’t just sit together in the bleachers anymore. They camp and celebrate birthdays together, and when something goes wrong, they’re the first ones to start a fundraiser or bring over a meal.
Sports are one of the first and best ways we learn to be a team, and if anything right now, we need to learn to be a team.
This year has been tough, and for my brother, it just got a lot tougher. I know writing this won’t change anything. The game’s winding down and he’s still at home and it still makes me sad.
I always try to find lessons in things, but this isn’t encouraging or inspiring. I was hoping by the time I finished writing this I’d find something.
But I feel like it’s how we’re all kinda feeling right now. We’re all feeling a little stuck and a little sad. I don’t even want to say, “Let’s all keep praying,” because I feel like we’re probably a little tired of hearing that too.
But I'm going to say it anyway.
That’s all we can do. If anything, we’re going to walk away stronger prayer warriors, and I guess that’s a good thing. But for tonight, I’m just going to say I’m sorry to my brother. I wish I could fix it for him. But I can’t, so I’ll just keep praying to the One who can bring good out of all of the bad.