It didn’t end like it was supposed to…

It didn’t end like it was supposed to…

But it did end.

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The final score of the final game of the final season for the class of 2020 was 14-28. It shouldn’t have been.

As I looked to the score board in the 4th quarter and saw 6:19 left, the realization hit me like a bolt of lightning: We aren’t going to win. There’s not enough time. All I could think about was being with my son at that moment. (I’d be willing to bet there were many parents with similar feelings.) I didn’t want him to have to feel like I knew he was feeling by himself. The thing about having to let our kids grow up, is we don’t get to rescue them from every terrible thing, but that doesn’t keep us from wanting to.

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From my vantage point that night, I had to find a way to hold it together. Announcing football games for our high school has become one of my most favorite things to do. But fighting back the lump in my throat that night was the toughest job I’ve had in a while. I really don’t think I succeeded. It is truly hard to explain what THAT team means to me. THOSE boys are something special.

Once the clock hit triple zero, I tried to pack up my stuff and get to the field as quickly as I could. But my phone was blowing up…

Dang! Trophy presentation!

Suck it up for a moment more and announce the runner up Dragons with some pride, man! Those boys deserved it.

And then say the name of the team that would be hoisting the trophy that belonged to us.

When I could finally head out, I kept thinking: “I just don’t know if I want to do this any more. This is ripping my guts out.”

I was making my way to the field when I saw the post game team meeting break and watched my son collapse at the forty yard line. He wasn’t alone, but he was by himself. Hugs and tears all around. This was a new feeling for me. Indescribable unless you’ve been there. I hadn’t.

Isaac’s back was to me when I came up to him so I dumped my stuff and sat down behind him. I put my arms around my armored warrior just held him a minute. I will never forget the first words out of his mouth when his sobbing slowed enough:

“Dad, I’ll never get to suit up with my boys again.”

Long pause to catch my breath even as I type right now…

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He didn’t say:

“I can’t believe we lost.”

“We deserved to win.”

“I really wanted to win that state title.”

“At least I played well.” (He did, by the way. Might have been his best game, though there is no proof on a stat sheet anywhere.)

“The refs really cost us this game.”

“If…”

I think I could go on, but I keep coming back to the words he DID say. And THAT is why I will always have a special place in my heart for THOSE boys.

For Isaac, and many others in the class of 2020, that last game wasn’t about the actual loss of the game. It was about the finality of their time together as a team.  Even as those words came to my mind, tears formed in my eyes. Not that they didn’t win it all, but that the time is gone and we’ll never have it back. That group of boys truly love each other. And it showed on the field.

Each of them has a unique story that brought them to South Oldham High School and Irvin Stadium on that chilly night in November. I’m quite familiar with many of those stories and intimately familiar with a few. To see that class from pee wee to Senior year was something special and I’m certain I won’t ever see it again.

South Oldham may never see it again.

Oh, they’ll have teams go that far and farther, because somehow that coaching staff will get the best out of whoever pulls that Dragon jersey over their shoulder pads on any given Friday night. But the word I’ve heard over and over and over with 2020 is: Chemistry. Man, they have that. That chemistry comes directly from the love that they have for each other. There is no doubt in my mind. And while some may disagree with this statement, I believe that group of boys was knitted together by God Himself. Blessed with David and Jonathon kind of friendships and unselfishly pulling for each other to be their very best.

Even in the weeks since that final game was played, the splintering is already starting. They’ll end up all over the place. So many of those boys are being offered places on college teams from everywhere and quite a few of them are going to get to play again. Some may actually get to play together, but not nearly all. Some will never strap a helmet on again and never again know the exhilaration of shouting: “Hell, yah” at the top of their lungs before running onto the field. They’ll go on now and join the rest of us who fondly remember high school and the glory days…

These are our boys:

First year to play, #18 – Liam Thiess and #19 – Aiden Turbeville. They were late to the party but got talked into spending their final fall busting their tails in practice to do anything they could to help the team in their first year playing football. Though they didn’t see the field much, they were outstanding teammates and never complained.

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#1 – Connor Langford: Another stolen soccer player who can kick a football like a pro. Connor made 67 out of 68 extra point attempts, making him tops in the state for class 5A.  (We love our converted soccer players!)

#12 – CJ Henry, #15 – Austin Miller, #80 – Jackson Ray:  Played as freshmen and came back their senior year to contribute to the team. Mostly saw them in special teams roles and they were great. But when called on to jump in, they were there and ready.

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#10 – Grant Russell OLB: Transferred his junior year. He answered a lot of questions at LB this past season. Man, I wish we’d had him the whole time!

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#56 – Evan Nash OL : Moved away in elementary school and came back for high school. Would do anything you asked and stepped up in a big way.

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#65 – Joey Sprake DL: South picked him up his freshman year after he played at East Oldham Middle. To meet him, you’d never guess that he’s capable on the field of what he’s capable of. Full of spirit and one of the four that made up a daunting D-line.

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#42 – Richard Thompson DE: Yet another pick up for South starting in high school. Thankfully this former Mustang saw the light and donned the correct green for his high school career. He was another part of that incredible D-Line that held teams to such low scores and yardage.

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#23 – Luke Clark DE: Poor kid thought he was a basketball player for too long! (Was a great one like some of our other boys were, but at South, no matter what you hear out loud, if you’re not 100% basketball… well, you figure out the rest!) Luke was the monster every QB had nightmares about. I shudder to imagine what he’d be like had he been an all football guy from the start. Someone will find out as he plays at the next level somewhere. (I think he has about a hundred offers by now!) 😉

#11 – Josh Carter RB, #54 – Tyrelle Love DL, and #59 – Garrett ChesterC/DL : South grabbed up these guys in middle school and they became anchors on the team and part of the core that got to play seven years together. Josh was and is one of the most upbeat guys I’ve met and would happily do anything the coach needed from playing line to running pass routes. Tyrelle was a beast in the middle of the D-Line. He’s a fiercely loyal young man who begged to come back to South after having to move away his junior year. We were very glad to have that happen. Garret was hands down our best O-Lineman and leader of that front. (I can’t help but share my favorite story about him from his 8th grade year. I helped “coach” that year and one day soon after grades came out, Garrett was late to practice. As he came in with me waiting on the late guys, I asked him if we needed to worry about him because of his grades. He was late because of BETA club, so his response will forever make me laugh: “Coach, no worries with my grades, I’m half Asian.” How can you not succeed with that sense of humor!

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#26 – JT Benson RB/DB: Man, I want to put him with the last group, but he took a detour in middle school to the dark side and though I love this kid to the moon, I have to acknowledge it. We may all see him in Yankee pinstripes someday but I will say that watching him play football is a treat. His first year as a pee wee player was on the Falcons and even then, he was a trip. Showed up one Saturday morning to play having just downed a Monster energy drink. Not sure he ever really needed that because he always played wide open. Mean as a wild animal on the field and an amazing young man off. He almost didn’t play football his senior year. That would have been a shame and massive loss for all of us who loved that team. He was most certainly a huge part of that team and its chemistry.

THE SQUAD:

# 2 – Ethan “D” Devasier S/WR, #3 – Trey “RG3” Garrison CB/WR, #7 Ethan “EB” Bednarcyzk WR/CB, #8 – Anthony “AP” Pierce QB, #21 – Keaton “K-Mart” Martin FB/LB, and #27 – Isaac “Midnight” Lalli CB/RB: I truly can’t break them down separately. I mean, I can, but I don’t want to. I know each of these boys well, and I know they’d rather just be kept together. They all started at the OCYFL (Oldham County Youth Football League) as a Falcon (Ethan D, Trey, AP, and Isaac) or Colt (EB and K-Mart). So from the time they were little, they played with or against each other. The OC Tiger organization gave them opportunity to play in post-season all star games together and that helped cultivate the bond they have now.

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That crew glued themselves together sometime during middle school and they were inseparable. I don’t know where their name “the Squad” came from, but that’s how they referred to each other. I think membership in that group has changed some through the years, (as you can see from this fierce and all too cute 8th grade edition) but these six were there at the start and will forever be Squad. Squad had several homes in Oldham County. I know mine was one of them. Many nights I can remember hollering down the basement stairs to “shut up, we’re trying to sleep” when they’d have a sleep over.  These boys are my favorites. At least for the longest period of time. They are blessed to have each other and blessed to have been able to play the great game of football for so long together.

I don’t want to take anything away from the younger boys on this team, but having had the best seat in the house to watch that 2020 crew turn from little bobble headed pee-wees into football players, I must say I deeply grieve that I’ll never be able to see them play together again.

After the season was over, several of them were invited to play on the East/West All Star team. A couple of them did, but a few others turned it down. I was actually a little miffed when I heard Isaac had turned it down. I know playing in that game could’ve given them and the South program more notoriety and maybe even looks from coaches looking to fill a college roster. I would’ve been able to watch him/them play one more time! I don’t understand what they were thinking!?

When I finally asked Isaac about it and expressed my disappointment, he said this to me and I believe it encapsulates how this team felt about each other:

“I didn’t want the last time I played high school football to be with anyone else but my team.”

Yah, OK, THAT, I understand.

To this amazing group of young men, I want to say thank you. Thank you for providing moms and dads and family and friends the privilege of watching you play football at South Oldham High School. Thank you for being the winningest class in Dragon history. Thank you for being great kids off the field as well as on. Thank you for setting the bar so very high. And thank you for leaving it all on the field.

I intended to write a season summary and a “this is how that last game should have gone,” but it turned into a tribute to my favorite team to ever wear the SOHS Dragon Green Gray and Blue (and sometimes black.)

Fitting.

Godspeed class of 2020, may your future be filled with more amazing things and please don’t ever forget just how much you meant to so many one Fall back in 2019.

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I’ll finish this one another time…

You can call me a biased fan or an unrealistic parent I suppose. I wouldn’t take offense to that. I’m no different than anyone who unabashedly pulls for my boys. But, I’ll take to the grave that we were the better team that last Friday night of our season.

If not for (I could stop right here and say MANY games could have those prepositions start an explanation for a loss. I get it.) four or five individual things. Had any ONE of them gone the other way, the game would have ended differently and we’d have played the following week.

THIS is how the game should have gone…

 

Botham, Amber and Foolishness

I can’t help but think about a Bible passage today as I read through responses to the verdict and sentencing of Amber Guyger for the death of Botham Jean. I took a particularly strong interest in this whole story because Botham was one of our youth minister’s best friends. He has had a very tough time processing his friend’s death at the hand of a supposed protector of innocents. When I hear about Botham Jean from him, I want to know him. His wonderful personality, enthusiasm for life, his contagious laugh, ability to sing, love of people, and mostly his devotion to God. He had to have been a “best of the best” kind of man.
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As a minister and Christian, I’m often asked some form of this question: “Why would a good God allow ________?” Sometimes that question is from someone who is grieving and doesn’t know what else to ask. They’re angry at God for the injustice of a death or a crime or a disaster that takes many lives. And in their need to understand, the only thing they can do is ask “why?”
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Sometimes the question is from someone who is cynical and is trying to dismiss the very idea of a “God.” Proof of a lack of a God lies in the events of evil and pain and suffering. There’s no way a loving God could sit idly by and allow xyz…
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I’d love to say I have an answer every time I hear that question, but I don’t. Further, I’d love to say I’ve never asked that question myself, but I can’t. I’ve shaken my fist into the face of God on numerous occasions and I’m not above saying that I’m likely to do it again.
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Today, October 3rd, 2019, flooding social media are pictures, videos, articles and opinions of specifically two reactions to the guilty verdict and the sentencing of a former police officer. One was of the brother of the victim; the other the very judge who presided over the trial. Both shared the very picture of what I think God’s grace and mercy look like.  Both offered words of forgiveness. Both spoke of a better life. Both embraced a killer.
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Those responses have set off an explosion of reactions. Awe, tears, disbelief, anger, no, rage, compassion, disgust, doubt, hope…on and on with as many reactions as there are people.
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I get it. I see that there are sides to take. At least in the society we live in, there are.
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So, here’s where that Bible passage comes in. The Apostle Paul writes it to a group of people in turmoil. They’re divided over some things and risking disunity with how many of them are behaving. Paul’s counsel is to dispatch the quarrels and focus on the one thing that brought them together. From First Corinthians chapter one, starting in verse 18:
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“For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and I will thwart the cleverness of the intelligent.” Where is the wise man? Where is the expert in the Mosaic law? Where is the debater of this age? Has God not made the wisdom of the world foolish? For since in the wisdom of God the world by its wisdom did not know God, God was pleased to save those who believe by the foolishness of preaching. For Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks ask for wisdom, but we preach about a crucified Christ, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. But to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”
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What makes sense to the world in the case of Botham Jean and Amber Guyger isn’t so clear in the shadow of this text. “She’s guilty of murder! Let her rot in prison!” or “She just made a horrible decision in a frightened moment. She shouldn’t be in jail.” 
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I don’t know. I wasn’t there. My opinions are no more valid than yours. I know a wonderful life was lost and I know without a doubt who took it. Beyond that, it became a huge argument of excuses and blurriness. Who could persuade the best? Who looked trustworthy? What version of the story is convincing?
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What I DO know is that in the aftermath of tragedy, a display of love beyond comprehension was shown to someone who really didn’t deserve it.
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Foolishness! 
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Sure, why not. If this was God’s way of acting in this mess, I’m good with that. A man who’s life ended too soon was only known by a few until breath left his body. His story became national headlines and then everyone knew his name. And in the end, his name was used to deflect attention to the God he loved. That is more than I can digest.
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And then I think about those words above. The red ones especially for me. They won’t be red in a Bible. I did that to remind me that sometimes things don’t make sense in my little pea brain. I’d say they never will, but I believe there really will come a time when it’s all clear. By then, I won’t be concerned about “why” anymore. Maybe Botham and I will discuss it. Maybe Amber will be there too…

Jazzy, Going to Miss Him Terribly

National Dog Day was yesterday. Man, being a dog lover, EVERY day is National Dog Day! I’ve had dogs my whole life and might just write about some of them sometime, but today I’m sharing my saddest dog moment and I’m sure some of you have been there too. The day I’m sharing is the day I had to say goodbye to my “man’s best friend” closing in on ten years ago. So, even though you read this today, my current pup(s) are doing great and fulfilling their function as best four legged creatures on earth.

But, fair warning…grab a tissue.

-First Posted on December 26th, 2009-

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The most agonizing decision I’ve ever had to make…

He was so old and getting so frail. His back legs hardly worked anymore especially late in the day if he’d been up on them at all. He slipped down on smooth surfaces regularly. I’d say he “fell out of bed” just to make me smile and get a laugh out of whoever happened to be around. Truthfully, each reminder of the age he was taking on was painful. For several years, tumors and growths formed all over his body.

Years ago, he’d had a surgery that removed some tumors and for a while, I thought he might die. I just knew it was cancer. (I had no idea what role cancer would play in my life just a few short years later…) But, they got it all. I think it was 9-10 years ago. If I think long enough I could remember exactly, but it is really inconsequential now. What I remember clearly – though I hadn’t thought of it since then – is how incredibly sad I was to think about losing him then. It was too soon. I see myself standing in our tiny kitchen with tears in my eyes… But, he had lots of life left.

This week, he did not have lots of life left. 17+ years is a very long time for him. 121 years to us. I wouldn’t have believed it if anyone had told me he’d have lasted that long. On Monday of this week, he’d had a very busy day. We’d had company and they showed him extra attention which he loved. Thinking about it now, I guess we wore him out. He fell early in the evening while in the kitchen. He was normally in the kitchen to drink from his water dish, eat from his food dish or hope for the kind of morsels one might find in a kitchen where people who are klutzy live. He often succeeded in finding such things! But, whatever took him there, the floor and his lack of leg strength kept him there. It took over four hours for him to manage to get back on all fours. In that time, he would let out a yelp every few minutes. It wasn’t so much a hurting sound as it was a “hey, I’m stuck over here” sound. I knew the difference. But I also knew that once he got to a point where he couldn’t do things for himself… Well, I knew it was time to let him go. No one will ever know how those hours hurt. I’ve got no idea how he felt, but I hurt.

After a couple of hours, I began to think what I had promised I’d think. I made a promise to myself and to him that I wouldn’t ever let him suffer needlessly. The decision had been made already; I just didn’t know when I’d have to make good.

After searching web sites about the unthinkable, I began to grieve already. I found a vet who would make a house call. I saw that the humane society was an option. Obviously, there were many options with animal hospitals and veterinarian offices. I was petrified at what a car trip might do to him. It had been years since he was in a car. I couldn’t bear the thought of traumatizing him in his last minutes. A good friend knew the right person and because the “house call” vet was already scheduled to be other places, I had to make the choice to take him to a strange place where it was cold and sterile. I didn’t like that part of it at all. But, it had already become a tougher thing. The morning after things became obviously clear, he seemed fine. He was up and his tail was wagging and actually seemed to have more energy. I was second guessing myself and looking for any reason to change my mind. But I couldn’t. I knew he’d never be “better.” In fact, any more prolonging things would only cause him the suffering I promised to avoid. So, the appointment was made.

I had also made the decision that once his life was over, I wanted him to be as close as possible. I wanted a grave in my yard. I wasn’t supposed to dig one – but I couldn’t help doing it. A dear friend joined me with a shovel that afternoon and I picked a place under a couple of trees where I knew it would be best. As we dug out a hole that seemed giant to me, he watched from a distance. I know he knew what I was doing. When we finished, he tried to walk around the outside of the yard with my friend. How could I blame him? But he finally did follow me back into the house. He fell down again that evening ending all thoughts of canceling the appointment…

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My sleep was restless. I must have gotten up a dozen times to look at him, hoping beyond all hope that he’d pass all by himself in the night. But he didn’t. I let him out early that morning after he yipped to let me know he wanted out. I watched him go down his ramp – the only way he could navigate stairs in these last couple of years. (He had stopped going up and down our stairs. He used to come up each night to help put the boys to bed and he’d come downstairs when we were all there. He loved to be where ever we all were. But that stopped a few months back. I think I remember the last time he tried. He stayed at the bottom of the stairs for a long time before he tried to come up. That familiar rhythm of his hopping up those stairs one at a time was unmistakable.) He stayed outside for quite a while that morning. Maybe he knew it was his last time roaming the yard. I knew and the emotion welling up in me was already unbearable. When he came in, I gave him all the doggie treats he had left. (I’d let him eat anything he wanted the night before. For old time’s sake, I ordered pizza and we shared some. When he was still just a pup he and I would split a pizza down the middle when Dominoes would run their “special.” He had a tough time with too much “people food” in the last few years because it was too rich and would sometimes upset his stomach, but I didn’t care. He wasn’t eating dog food on his last night.) I also gave him a piece of cheese with a sleeping pill in it. I so hoped that it would mellow him out enough that the ride to the vet wouldn’t be awful.

The boys were interesting saying good bye. Elijah, my six year old, spoke quickly and unemotionally, not a pat on the head or anything. Isaac, my sweet spirited eight year old hugged him, told him good bye and he’d miss him and was visibly sad. I’d done my best to explain what was going to happen and wanted them to know. (As a child, our family pet was whisked away for her date with the vet without me being able to say good bye. I don’t think I ever got over that.) Once they were out of the house, I knew there was only one thing left to do for my “good boy.” I needed to wrap him in a blanket so I could pick him him up to get him into the van. He didn’t struggle. He normally would have. He was very gentle and resolved I think. I began to cry as I talked to him, knowing he couldn’t hear my voice. His hearing had been gone for quite some time. I didn’t know the right words to say – as if it would have made a difference. I guess it mattered to me. I got him to the van finally after convincing myself this had to be the way it was. I had too many thoughts in those few minutes to remember. It was the last time this or that would ever happen… I’m funny that way. Too sentimental for my own good sometimes. But, this was a huge event to me.

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On the way to Dr. John’s office, he got out of his blanket and scooted up between the two captain’s chairs in the van where he could see me. I saw the look in his eyes and was sick over it. I did manage to take out my phone and grab a couple last memories in the way of pictures. (above) I’ll cherish those. The trip there was too short and I was early. I wanted to turn around and go back home and came close, but again, I knew this was right. I went in to make sure I could get him in before I actually carried him in. There was paperwork and all. I wrote slowly and was trembling. I was told what would happen in the coming minutes and then I walked back out to the van. I had to get him wrapped back up to make him easier to handle. He couldn’t have walked I don’t think. He never did like being on a leash anyway. I was offered help in bringing him in, but I didn’t think that was fair to him. When we got him weighed, I realized how thin he’d gotten. 51 pounds, they said. He’d been just over 70 at one point. Took after his daddy, I guess.

I was shown to a room with a stainless steel table in it and there is where I sat him down. He’d been so calm in this trip and the horrors I expected and dreaded never happened. It was too easy. The doctor came right in and went over one more time what would happen to my faithful friend. I already knew everything he said, but I guess I was hoping he’d look at him and say something like, “Oh, no he is ok, you don’t have to do this.” His glance at my buddy told me again there was no doubt. He told me he’d leave and get what he needed and that I could have some more time if I wanted it. I told him that if he gave me time, I’d take it so just come in when you’re ready. It didn’t take long enough and I lost it completely again when he came in with a syringe that would end the life of this well-lived friend. I was told to let him know when it was OK to proceed. I couldn’t do it. The final say was mine. I don’t know how long I delayed, looking at my boy and talking to him and petting him. The doctor told me I didn’t have to see it if I didn’t want to. I said he deserved to see my face last and I wouldn’t leave him.

So, I cradled his face in my hands and looked at the doctor and nodded ok. I didn’t mean it. I didn’t want it. I couldn’t fathom what that gesture would do to me. The doctor applied the antiseptic to his right paw and I watched him bring the needle close. No way this was happening. Ten seconds, he said. That’s all it would take once the shot was given. That’s all the time I had left with my “good boy.” (I called him that all the time.) I repeated over and over to him that “It’s OK, it’s ok.” I held my breath as I waited. I held him tight and made sure his eyes were on mine the whole time. He knew the love I was feeling for him right then. A last sparkle of his faded eyes and then they went dark. It was a dark that filled my heart. I knew the instant he was gone. The doctor said after listening for his heart that it was over and while he might have a natural movement or two left, he was gone. His head had become limp in my hands and I cried unashamed. No, I wept. Sobbed. I couldn’t stop for several minutes and the doctor and his assistant were so kind. They stepped away and walked out leaving me with my fallen friend. I’m not sure how much time went by as I sat holding him. His fur was old but still so soft. I held his eyes closed till they would stay that way. The life had drained away so peacefully for him, but my heart was broken wide open. Crushed with anguish.

I was offered a large box and we loaded him in it and I accepted the help in taking him to my van. To say it was an empty feeling doesn’t come close. How could this sidekick of mine for nearly all of my adult life be gone? I only had left the task of burial. That would test my strength once again as I laid a warm body in the cold earth. I couldn’t put dirt on him so he is wrapped in some old t-shirts. I did my best to put him in a comfortable position, the one he preferred when he’d lounge around the house. It didn’t take long for the last of him to disappear as the shovels full covered him completely. I went to get my boys to help with the rest of it. I wanted them to get to play a part in this solemn but special occasion. I did my best to make the most beautiful grave I could. I was meticulous with it. He deserved that and I was determined there would be honor and love shown in his resting place. I worked on the head stone for hours that evening. I went through several bits on my Dremel as I carved the stone to say just what I wanted. I sealed it with concrete sealant and placed it on his grave. I’ve been out a few times a day to check on it and though I know he’s there, I am still looking for him. I think I hear him or see him, or expect to, when I look where he is supposed to be. No… He is gone. Never to be replaced and never to be forgotten. Cherished as much as one can cherish a loving pet.

Jazzy, I miss you terribly. You were my “good boy.” Rest in peace…

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480 (To the South Oldham Football Class of 2020)

On Friday evening around 7:30, a leather shoe will come into contact with a leather ball and some volunteer in a booth high above the field will press a button. Then the clock will start.

480 game minutes later, it will all be over.

That’s not much time. Equates to 8 hours, right? To put that into perspective, that’s roughly the time of a single school day, time to drive to St. Louis and back, less time than binge watching two seasons of Last Chance U.

And then, that’s the end. Your final regular season of high school football is over. Nothing you can do about it, time moves without anyone’s permission…

We’ve been watching you guys, you know? For a long time.

Since you stormed the field as little bitty Falcons, Colts, Jags, Dolphins, or Tigers, our eyes have been on you. Something special about you boys. You probably didn’t know it or haven’t kept track of it like I have, but your teams have gone 111-26 since you were six year olds. Not bad. (And that just includes the teams I’ve been part of) If I think about it hard enough, I can picture you all running around looking like pitiful little bobble heads in those (at the time) huge helmets. Some of your jerseys came down to your knees. You looked nothing like football players. At least not compared to today. My goodness you guys were cute little things.

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It was hard to remember sometimes though while watching you play that you were, in fact, little kids. Sometimes we stood there amazed at your grasp of the greatest game known to man. I mean seriously, we had conversations like: “you know, his football IQ is through the roof” or “can you believe he just pulled that off?” That is, until you’d trot off the field, lose the pads and giggle about belches and farts in your high-pitched preadolescent voices. Yah, kids…

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Most of you remember 2015. You shocked the state that year. People still talk about that team today. And not just your old fart dads. People you don’t know, know you. They’ve been watching too. What a season…

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Remember 7-0 that year? The whole county was consumed with it. The Oldham Era had articles about you, a MIDDLE SCHOOL FOOTBALL team. Sports Headline:

Local middle school teams bring undefeated records into regular season finale after programs recently revive

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That one ended OK. And so did the sequel… Seemed like destiny to some of us that you were heading toward something unheard of in Oldham county. My favorite game to this day was Scott County in the third round of the state playoffs. Man, they sure were cocky and so sure they were headed to state. Y’all dismantled them. You guys even cost me a good scolding for getting too excited in the booth. Their principal came up to demand I show a little class and stop getting so excited for you. (Never mind that we found out later she was also the poor little QB’s mommy…)

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Getting ready for state. I think we all had butterflies. Uncharted territory for sure. How much fun was that? One by one, team after team, there you stood.

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13-1. So incredibly close. A couple things roll the other way, 30 more seconds on the clock, and maybe you’re 14-0 with a bigger, brighter trophy and an even more amazing story for the ages. (Still hungry for that championship?)

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High expectations for you fellas. From yourselves as much as anyone. I’ve been privy to some of your conversations; the ones where you’ve talked about this season and how it will end. You’ve dreamt it, imagined it, analyzed it, diagramed it, begged for it…

It’s your time.

No more hype. No more waiting. No more imagining. Time to roll.

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You can’t waste any of those 480 precious minutes.  Every one of them must mean something.

That means focus – Eyes on the prize, boys. There’s not a single team you’ll see this season that doesn’t want to pummel you. You’re wearing a big beautiful green and white target on your backs. Don’t sleep on anyone. They want to be spoilers. (We’ve been spoilers before)

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That means keeping your cool – Second punch gets the flag, right? Watch your testosterone levels on the gridiron, guys. Giving free yards to someone who wants to beat you just ain’t smart football. Let your play do the talking. You know who you are. A couple of you on offense and pretty much any defensive player with a ‘2’ on their jersey… 😉

 

That means letting your coaches coach – You don’t have one single coach on that staff that doesn’t want what you want and maybe even more than you do. They will never say anything to you that isn’t meant to make you better. Every reprimand, butt chewing, substitution, off to the side convo. Those are all because they may quite possibly know a little more than you do about the game and want to put you in the right position to perform at your highest level. They are trying to get more out of you than you think you can give. Trust them.

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That means picking each other up when the mistakes come (they will) – Hey, someone is going to fumble, miss a block, turn the wrong way, give up a TD, jump offsides, or heck,  probably all those things. Team. Have their backs when your team mates screw up. The beauty of this game is you pretty much always get another shot a couple seconds later.

 

That means having a short memory in the game – some of those mistakes will be yours. That is just fact. Beating yourself up wastes those minutes. Pouting wastes them. And so does sleeping through the next play while you lament your screw up. Forget about them for now. That’s what game film is for.

That means raising up some younger players behind you and inviting them to the 2020 party you’re all throwing – You aren’t going anywhere without the underclassmen on this team. So, coach ’em up. Remember how you looked up to some of the guys before you? Almost idolized them? Yah, that’s you now in some of their eyes. You still have feet of clay boys, so rather than basking in the senior glow, pull those younguns with you.

That means dropping your ego – I realize none of you have an ego… Ain’t no way to slice this but to say this: Some of you are better than others. Truth. But THIS team has always been about chemistry. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Every. Single. Minute. Matters.

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You’re only promised 480. That’s it.

CAL, Eastern, Bullitt Central, North, OC, J-Town, Atherton, North Bullitt, Seneca, and Central Hardin. 48 each…480.

But some will get a few more. Someone who wills their season to continue. Someone that will only settle for squeezing out the very last drop. Someone who isn’t comfortable with what already is. But instead, sees what can be. There are an additional 240 minutes up for grabs. Who wants em?

South Oldham Football Class of 2020, CLAIM EVERY MINUTE!

And for crying out loud, have some fun!

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Love you boys,

Your biggest fan (ALL of us are)

A “see ya in a few” goodbye.

I spent some time today with a dear friend who is dying. Soon. It’s not the first time I’ve had to say goodbye to someone knowing that it was the last time we’d speak. Some would tell me it goes with the territory of my day job. True enough. Guess I’ve been around it (the end of life) all my life. I’ve been “in the room” as someone breathed their last on several occasions. I’ve been the first one called “after” a few times. I’ve watched the slowed breathing of someone who is medicated into coma so they wouldn’t feel pain any more. And I’ve also experienced the shock of finding out days or weeks later and not known exactly how to respond.
Today wasn’t like any of those experiences. My friend is my age. We have a lot in common and I’ve always enjoyed our conversations about anything and everything. We both loved talking sports. We both roll our eyes at the political atmosphere and both feel like until everyone learns to play nicely together despite any differences, we will continue dividing wider and wider apart. We both like food. Pretty much any of it…and we’d both proved that too many times. So, to hear that we have both struggled with our weight comes as no surprise.
My favorite conversations to have with him, though, have been about our common faith. I tend to stay away from too much of that discussion on my public page – not because I’m afraid of it or ashamed of it! In fact, it is THE fuel in my life that keeps me going – mostly because I’ve used FaceBook as a way to keep up with people all over the place and do my share of bragging about my kids as I look at my friends bragging about theirs.
Right now, though, my faith takes center stage. My friend told me a few months ago that he was going to be ready to go if his health didn’t turn around. He knew it wouldn’t and the last thing he wanted was to be a burden on his family. (not in a “pity me” kind of way; more like he loves them that much) He asked me then if I thought it was OK if he stopped one of the treatments he was taking if he knew he couldn’t get better. If he stopped it, it wold hasten his death. He didn’t want to hurt any more and I sure didn’t want to see him hurt anymore. Nor did anyone else that loves him. I asked him if he was at peace with that. He was. I’d do the same.
Today, when I got there, we small talked for a few minutes and then I said: “I guess you’re ready to go, huh?”
“Yes, I am. I didn’t think it would take this long.”
We chatted about that a bit and then more small talk.
I asked if he wanted to talk about anything specific.
He looked at me and said: “I’m sorry I never got to hear you call a football game.”
We both kind of choked up and then laughed a bit, deciding that surely heaven has football and maybe I’d get to call a game there. He wants to be on the field. Me too.
I asked him then if he wanted me to pray and he nodded his head.
Strange prayer, I guess, by some’s standards. I asked God to take him quickly and that he was ready to be with Him.
Afterward we talked for a few more minutes and he started dozing back off a bit. I helped him with his CPAP machine so he could get a decent breath and then held his hand as he dozed off. He tried to stay awake for me, but I told him to sleep.
As I sat there, one thing rolled around in my head. It was this: “…and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”
Those words were written by a Christian known as the Apostle Paul many centuries ago to a man he mentored named Timothy. Paul was short for this world at the time too.
I looked around the room for something to write on for my friend. I wanted to leave this message for him. As I scooted my chair a bit, he roused and tried again to wake up for me. So I sat still and didn’t make any more noise. I was just about to write him a note on a napkin and then decided to text it to him. I knew he checked his texts regularly.
“Love you bro, see you on the other side.” Then I added the text from 2 Timothy above.
I get that some people don’t believe in a God. I understand it better than most think is possible. I get it because there is so much hypocrisy in this world from so many that claim to be people of faith but then live ugly hateful lives. I wish I could fix that all at once. To be straight with you, I honestly wish all the hypocrites would just lose gravity and float away. But I’m afraid I’d drift off on some days too. Perfection isn’t part of me as a human. I’m a big old mess. We all are…
My friend isn’t one who would make people doubt a God or think He’s a hateful lover of violence and any of the things that unknowing people accuse Him of.
Nah, my friend is one who if you knew him, you’d love the God he knows. So when he told me he was ready to see Him, I smile for him. I’m glad I share that faith with him. It was the bedrock of our friendship. Because of that, I don’t have a worry in the world for him and I also have no doubt that I’ll join him some day. Beats me if it will be on a heavenly football field or what, but I just don’t doubt that I’ll see him again.
After quietly sneaking out of his room and saying goodbye to his family, I drove off. My eyes had welled up a few times with him, but I’d been able to keep the tears from getting out of control. I smiled as I looked back at my phone and saw the last text I sent. I’m glad I’ll have a copy of that too.
I’ll miss my friend. I’m sure I’ll finally let those tears streak my face at some point. I know that when I see his family again without him, it will be tough. And I’m sure I’ll be in that similar circumstance again down the road, with someone else facing their end, but today was different.
Today was very much a “see ya in a few” goodbye.

2016 Dragons – Season we’ll never forget

The day football season ends might be the gloomiest day of the year. I love football. Always have. If there’s a game going on and I can get to it, I’ll watch it. I don’t even care who is playing… I’m experiencing that end of season gloom as I write.

For the last 15 years or so, though, I’ve cared very much for a team that has become “my team.” That team would be the South Oldham Dragons. Before I had sons old enough to walk, I’d find my way over to the high school and watch them play. There’s something about high school football. It’s pure. No one plays for money on that field. (Girls, maybe, but not money.) The raw passion of 16 and 17 year olds is pretty fun to watch when you pile 22 of them on the same rectangle, divide them into two teams and tell each to guard an end.

To be honest, they weren’t very good when I started watching them. But it was still the sport I loved and as often as I could go, I would. Rarely, did I know anyone on the field. I heard names and figured out who the stars were, but I’d never have known a single one without a helmet and numbered jersey.

As my sons got old enough to love football, I’d take them with me. My oldest was star struck at his first high school game. He couldn’t have been more than 3 or 4 but I remember him telling me on the way home that he wanted to be a Dragon some day and run onto that field. His first year playing pee wee football, he got that chance in a championship game. He was six and got put in for an extra point attempt where he needed three yards and got one…maybe.

Through the years, that team became more and more important to me and as my sons got older, I had no doubt, that I wanted them to be a Dragon too. So we watched every home game for a few years and after a while started going to the closer away games as well. Somewhere along the way, that Dragon team started winning more than they lost. There was an energy in the stands nearly every game and I loved it.

My boys, two school years apart, were getting older and about to head to middle school where they’d get to be little Dragons. So Friday night was no longer a “Dad, are we going to the game?” as much as it was a “Dad, when are we leaving for the game?” kind of thing. We knew a few of the boys in those days. Some had helped with the youth league where the young kids learned and played this great game. Some were older brothers of friends of my boys. It was really kind of cool to see them after a game and say “good game” and have them actually recognize us and respond with a “thanks, man.”

I took the scenic route to get here, but this brings me to the 2016 Dragons Team. These boys are special. Early in the summer, I remember a conversation I was having with one of the coaches about the expectations of the team. Their goal was to win their district, but it sounded like it was going to be tough to do. They were missing parts or weren’t as strong as they needed to be or they’d lost key players last year. Those things weren’t excuses. They were just facts. There were many unknowns coming into this season. I couldn’t wait to get it started though.

I have had the best seat in the house. Seriously.

From the first scrimmage, a demolition job on a fairly bad opponent, eyebrows started to raise as it appeared for many, that those unknowns might end up being strengths.

Game one, a team rolled into town fully expecting to start our boys off 0-1. Not so fast Anderson county, South had a different thought on how that game should go. I believe it was a 31-14 beat down and I also believe, that one game ruined that other team’s season. No lie.

Game two was going to be harder. We’d heard about the three potential D1 players we’d see and we had to go to their place to play. Two sets of Dragons on the field that night. The Green, Blue and Gray ones stood at the end. Doss, not so much. W 34-26.

Arch rival time in game three. Mustangs came in and my little ponies left. W 41-7

Next up, Boone County. W 35-14

Another rivalry game across the county to Buckner where the Colonels awaited. I’d go out on a limb and say we had AS MANY, if not MORE fans at that game than the home team. The score looks way closer than it really was after they got a couple of lucky scores once our starters were on the sidelines drinking gatorade. W 48-27 – That was FUN!

Nelson County came to visit next. W 56-7

6-0 was sounding good, but another high powered offense was gearing up for the Dragons’ visit and we thought we’d be in a tough battle from start to finish. We were, but (and I don’t say this lightly) that night it felt like we were playing two teams. One in gold and maroon and the other in black and white stripes. I’d never witnessed an officiating crew lose control of a high school game like that one did. Chippy is an understatement with how things went there. But, when the dust settled, the scoreboard told the tale. South 52, Bullitt East 27.

At 7-0, the county started buzzing a bit with talk of this team. It had been building, but it really took off at this point. The local paper’s write ups, typically showing a strong bias for the northern equine variety, began to have to take up more and more space chronicling the boys from the Southside.

Another trip to Bullitt county took our team to an 8-0 record with a 39-7 win over Bullitt Central.

That left only one team to play in our district. North Bullitt. They were good. Scored a million points per game, but also seemed to give up that many. They had the next best record at 7-2 and we were ready for a shootout. It was. That game cost me all my fingernails! We thought we had them in a blowout early on, but they came screeching back, tying us after overcoming a 24 point deficit. But our defense finally bowed their backs and stood up a two point conversion attempt just short of the goal line. W 35-34  Whew, hand me the oxygen. That, and the district title. Again.

We would travel to the toughest challenge in the season next. Shelby County seemed to have our number. We came out flat that night. I don’t know if it was the fact the boys were just finishing fall break or what, but we didn’t look like ourselves. Despite that, those young men mounted a come back that fell just short. Two points short. L 32-33.

That loss tasted nasty in everyone’s mouth. And, I have to say, came at exactly the right time. That ended the regular season and made the boys ravenous for another win. I truly felt sorry for whoever would play us in the first round of the playoffs.

Woodford County drew the short straw. Though I had to watch it online, (Thank you Pegasus Sports Network!) it was a blast seeing our season high in points get thrown up on the scoreboard. Despite a great fake punt play, Woodford just didn’t have the juice for the men in green. South advances to round two 61-33

The following week, we had some de ja vu going on as Bullitt Central would try to upset us on the second try. Nope. South blanked ‘em. 37-0

It took an upset to get the Dragons their third home game in a row. That’s especially nice in the playoffs! So, in one sense, we were grateful to North Bullitt for ending a Madison Southern run. But on the other hand, the team we’d only beat by one point was coming back to town and they weren’t smiling.

Game two against North Bullitt was every bit as exciting as game one. My fingernails had grown back, but dang it, if those Eagles didn’t cost me another set. What. A. Game. This time it was our turn for the come back. We trailed by 14 going in to the fourth quarter and after two insane scoring drives, tied it up. But we were running out of time and at the tail end of the 4th, it looked very much like overtime was our reality. But, once again, our boys dug in and drove. All the way down inside the five yard line. Then, with seven short ticks left on the game clock, a  field goal attempt into a brutal headwind flew straight and true giving the Dragons a 45-42 win and an appointment to what was the final 4 for class 5A.

It was 1992 the last time South had wandered this far into the playoffs. Our boys knew what awaited them was a team that was trying to make it to their 4th championship game in a row. We had to travel to a “neutral site” to play them – THEIR place. No one picked us to win and many thought it would be a lopsided game where we’d come out licking our wounds and sorry we ever showed up. They did beat us. But the score was 55-62. A couple bounces the other way, and it very easily could have been our boys with the ‘W.’

We, the parents, grandparents, friends, teachers, fans… the people of South Oldham, weren’t as sad for the loss as much as we were sad for the defeated warriors who would never suit up in the green, blue and gray again. Finality is a hard pill to swallow for grown men, let alone young warriors who spilled their blood, sweat and tears for those of us who were spectators for the contests in which they fought.

When those Dragon warriors look back on this 2016 season, when they’re my age and wondering why their joints are sore, they’ll think back to a 12-2 season and smile. They’ll rehash their favorite plays. They’ll recreate the scenarios that would have won that final game. They’ll laugh about the locker room stuff that none of us ever heard. (and don’t WANT to hear) They’ll wish they could suit up one more time and do it again…

Me? I’ll look back too. I’ll remember names and faces of young men and some old. Football names.  Ashkettle, Crittendon, Goodlett, Bates, Basham, McMullen and Mills that blew holes into defensive lines so other names like George, Bolden, Elsbury, Kelly and a youngin’ called Kmart could run for days. Those same monsters in the middle held off opposing defenders so a young man named Zaubi could launch 2200 plus yards worth of passes to John, Silcox and others. I’ll ponder a defense built with the bricks of Weathers, Cotton, Knable, Bowman, Beaudoin, Lightfoot, JD, JT, Jones, and Baetens. Not one, but two feet that rarely missed belonging to a Cantrell and Klehr. I’ll reminisce about underclassmen who stepped up when they were called on and those who are waiting in the wings for their chance to shine. I know those younger boys well and can confidently say that they’ll follow in the footsteps of those who paved the way and they’ll carry that South Oldham Dragon standard high. I’ll be glad to have seen those boys play under a group of coaches second to none. (And I hope those same coaches are STILL showing those boys how to play the greatest game on earth.)

When my sons are getting their sons ready to wear that Dragon uniform, I think…no, I know, we will all remember a team of young men who went farther than anyone thought they would and made a county proud. It’s a season we’ll never forget.