Tonight is senior night. A group of young men will look at high school football through the 20/20 vision that hindsight will provide for the first time. The clock will wind down to zero and they will bid farewell to a sport they have given so much and has given them so much in return. They will feel the end of something that has been a part of them. They will celebrate their success as young men and feel the loss of a piece of their childhood all at the same time.
They will say goodbye to the excitement and anticipation that comes along with gamedays. Pep rally’s, team meals, pregame will be things of the past. They will wonder, like most athletes have, what am I without my sport? They will find their answers as they move on. They will realize that who you are without the sport, is what you became while you were playing the sport. The question will become, who would I have been without the sport?
They will process the emotions that one goes through when a season ends. They will feel grief. A kind of grief, that I can tell you with true certainty, they will feel forever. It will look different at different stages, as all grief does, but it will most certainly stay with them. The cause of this grief, love. Love of the sport, love of the team, love of the teammates, love of commitment to something bigger than themselves. They will say goodbye to something they love tonight.
If this feels dramatic to you, you have not loved a sport like I have. If you have loved a sport like I have, you probably feel the sting of tears, maybe a lump in your throat. If you have loved a child that loved a sport you have or will feel the loss as well. You will feel the loss with them, but you will also feel a loss unique to the parents’ perspective.
While I have not lived the loss of a sport through my children yet, every year at the end of the football season I have the privilege of witnessing coaches and parents bravely walk alongside their seniors as they push their own feelings aside to support their children.
My prayers each week are strategically focused on the players and coaches that dedicate themselves to the team. I pray that they will perform to the best of their abilities, that they will leave the field knowing they gave it their all. I pray for no lasting regrets, only moments of learning. I pray that the good will outweigh the bad in their memories, and that they will feel success in some way.
As I pray for our seniors tonight, I pray the same thing. I pray that when they look back on their football career they will smile. I pray that they will know that, while it feels like they are losing a part of them, they have gained so much. I pray they know that they are not leaving the program or their football family, only transitioning to a new role. I pray specifically, that as they finish tonight that they are better young men than when they started, and that being a part of football has taught them the lessons that will help them find success.
What they don’t know yet is that the loss they feel will soon be replaced with new endeavors that will excite them and inspire them. That their future will be filled with moments of realization as they begin to understand how much football prepared them for life. They will also learn that with each realization will come a longing to do it all again.
They will smile on a random afternoon as they talk about a game, a play, a season, a coach, a teammate that changed everything for them, and if they dwell too long on any one of these things they will also get choked up. They will forever be connected to a group of people that have fought alongside them, and while those relationships will change they will not disappear.
They will feel gratitude for a sport that gave them so many opportunities. They will feel loss as they wonder if they will ever feel the rush of competition again. They will feel pride in themselves, their team, and all that they have accomplished. They will forever long for one more play, one more chance at greatness.
They will feel, and there is power in that.
At times, I dream I have another year of eligibility and my college coach calls me back. Not once in my dreams have I turned her down. To this day, as I write this, tears flow and my heart longs for one more chance to be a part of something like that. One more game. Even the dream sets my heart on fire.
My sport still makes me feel, and there is power in that.
Seniors, I celebrate you, and I grieve with you. I want to thank each one of you for giving a piece of your heart to a team and to a sport. You will forever be a part of something bigger than a single person or a single season. You are important and you have made a difference.
Senior parents, I celebrate you, and I grieve with you. I want to thank you for giving a piece of your heart to a team and to a sport. For encouraging, sacrificing, and supporting your child through the highs and lows that come with sports. You are important and you have made a difference.