Fall, a time for school to resume, classes to start, kids to groan and parents to exhale. A time when the hot, dog days of summer recede and begin to blend with the cool, crisp mornings of fall. Here in the Northern Hemisphere our leaves begin to change color and slowly speckle the ground, crunching beneath our feet. Having three boys, Fall means football. The companionship that develops from team sports has an everlasting effect well through the rest of a child’s lifetime. Two of my boys began a youth football program in the third grade. Considering my youngest is now in the sixth grade and my oldest entering the eighth grade, I have been a football mom for six years. A ‘single’ football mom; for a long six years.
Shortly after signups, the excitement starts. You find yourself looking through the shoe and sporting goods stores for cleats. Shoes that you are well aware your child will probably grow out of before the end of the season, you happily place your credit card in the cashiers hand to check out. Unless, of course you are fortunate enough to find ones, slightly used at a garage sale or flea market and if so, count your blessings, as in the following years when name brands suddenly determine how fast your child can run or stand his ground in the lineup the cash shall flow. I have been and am known for finding such deals slightly larger than what they are currently wearing and saving them until they can wear them. I have a pair that I found on a clearance rack for five dollars that are still sitting in the top of my closet, waiting to be worn when my boys are in high school.
In our area, a football camp is offered. I highly recommend such a camp for beginning players as the coaches and volunteers stress safety and fundamentals. It is a learning and physical conditioning period for the boys. Running in the heat of the long August days is just a prelude to running in all the gear and equipment that they will wear during regular practices and games. Our youth football program hands out uniforms and pads during the first week of actual practice. This is where being a single woman and never having older brothers that played football, you find yourself at a disadvantage. Having to put knee and thigh pads in those super tight pants while they are turned inside out is an experience I once lacked. Once you figure all those out, then you need to be able to flip those small pants outside in without losing the thigh pads that miraculously seem to fall out, every single time. After all that is accomplished, there is a nylon belt that needs to be threaded through one opening All-The-Way to the other belt hole. This is done through a very patient and time consuming push, scrunch, drag, scoot motion until you are able to reach your fingers as far in as possible to grab the end of the belt and pull it through. That is unless, it gets caught on some loose threads or bunched up inside the pants and you have to start over.
Both hip pads, butt pad (with belt loop that I have never figured out how to get the belt through) and boys cup slides into a boxer looking short piece called a girdle. Not girdles to hold belly rolls in, like us discrete women wear, but a mesh girdle made specifically for football and the pads they “hold”. A word of advice, Never refer to your private collection of lingerie as a “girdle” in front of your nine year old football players, as they will continue to be scarred for life. After an hour of fumbling with the pants and padding, the socks, shoes, rib guards and shoulder pads go on with ease. Easy right? Unless your child has a head the size and shape of a watermelon. One of the most important pieces of equipment, in my opinion, is the helmet. If that helmet doesn’t slide on and off with relative ease, it is also the most dreaded piece of equipment. Many evenings I’ve spent standing with my son facing me, pulling with all my might on the ear holes, trying to slip it on or off. Then the look of my sons face with cheeks squeezed together as he’s trying to tell me with full fish lips, that it is too tight. Mean mommy; as the laughs keep rolling, and since you are not going to pull that helmet right back off, you decide at least if there is a horrible accident between home and the football field, your child will have the absolute best protection and safety devices available to mankind on.
Eventually hitting starts at practice and your “baby” awakes each morning with every color in the rainbow pasted on some point of his anatomy. Ice packs, warm baths with Epsom salts and Tylenol does wonders. As tuff as he acts on the field, when the car door shuts he immediately turns into your little boy again. He will brag all the way home of the great plays he made that evening, while whining about every scrape and sore joint in his body.
We have a great group of coaches in our community. They not only teach the fundamentals of football but preach good sportsmanship and safety as well. My sons will and have smeared their opposing players in the ground, then when the referees whistle blows, lend that same kid a hand in getting up. Plays over. That simple move, offering assistance makes this single mom proud of her boys.
Throughout the football season you find your child both on top of the pile and also, the dreaded heart stopping “my baby” moment, underneath ten boys twice his size. This will happen, all star players or not…again, this will happen. As a momma, you must refrain from running onto the field, grabbing each child by their face mask and throwing them ten yards in either direction to uncover your boy. Times like this are tough, especially as you hold your breath waiting for them to “roll” off the pile of bodies so your child can finally breathe and get up. That same equipment that you let him wear in the car to the very first practice because it was the best available to all mankind will protect your child now. Trust the referees and your son’s coaches if something should ever happen. They go through extensive training and really do have the safety of your youngster on their minds. Sure, we all know the overzealous screaming coach with the obvious high blood pressure problems and the referee that should have retired twenty years ago because he’s blind as a bat and didn’t see that illegal hold, but these folks for the most part volunteer their time for their children and for the love of the game. If you should panic, don’t worry, you are not the first and definitely won’t be the last. I vaguely remember the first time my oldest had the ball and was running for the goal line with a herd of boys hot on his heels and ready to tackle. This “stay calm and cool” mom, ran the length of the field with him (on the parent side of the ropes of course) alternating screaming cheers like “GO, GO, GO” with “Somebody Block for Him!” Yes, this too shall pass, and hopefully my child will not actually be embarrassed for life.
By the end of the season, bundled in five layers of cloths, hats, gloves, blankets and still dog shaking cold, the thrill of football will be fleeting. Hot chocolate runs short in the concession stands and voices are hoarse from rooting your star child on. Your personal transportation vehicle has become a stockpile for gear, clothing and first aid equipment. The smell inside a hot vehicle after carpooling several wet, sweaty, stinky boys is incomparable to anything else on this planet. I know that several of you parents know exactly what I am talking about, especially after numerous attempts to clean and spray air freshener in the “mom taxi”. All said; I have to thank my boys for the patience they have demonstrated through the years as we have learned the game of football together. As a word of advice, for the first time “cup” shoppers – do not make your boy, or try to assist, in sizing himself in the middle of an aisle at a department store. Do, make him squat and stand in the dressing room though as to assure when he is playing there will be no “pinching” down there. Maybe when they make the NFL, after college scholarships of course, we will be able to laugh about all these years in youth football.