Dedicated to the Class of 2020

Dedicated to the Class of 2020:

Maybe it’s fitting that you were born into a world gripped with fear and uncertainty and will graduate from it as well. Maybe it’s the only appropriate bookends for you. It isn’t fair. It isn’t what was planned. It isn’t what you wanted. It isn’t what any of us wanted. But let’s just see what we’ve ended up with…

Back in 2001 or 2002, had the powers that be told any of us parents that the little bundles of joy that had just been born to us would have the responsibility to shoulder a post-9/11 worldview and end their high school careers trapped at home because of a world-wide pandemic, we’d have all collectively said: 

“No! Please! not our precious babies!”

Had that same voice said: 

“Hold on, there’s more. Just listen for a minute. This might sound bad on the surface, but between their birth and their graduation, they’ll be like no other class before or after. 

They will be extraordinary…

From birth, this class will bring the widest smiles to you as they learn to navigate their new world. From the moment they roll over, crawl, walk or speak the first words, they will be special. You’ll know it from your core that they are to go on to stand out among the mundane, to shine where there is no light, to bring energy to every facet of life.

You’ll watch them get older and start interacting with others in their class. They’ll play T-Ball and soccer and they’ll take gymnastics and dance classes. And that will start them down roads of interests that will grow into passions. They will be scholars, musicians, athletes, dancers, writers, workers, actors, volunteers, designers, artists, activists, change agents…and so much more.

As time passes, they will bring you immeasurable joy as they compete on fields, courts, gymnasiums, arenas and stadiums by running, throwing, catching, intercepting, hitting, shooting, kicking, jumping, tackling, lifting, diving or pinning all while wearing proudly the name Colonel or Mustang or Dragon!

They will inspire you with their voices and abilities to bring life to an inanimate instrument with melodies and harmonies that will swell your hearts.

They’ll stand on a stage and recite memorized words in such a way that you won’t even believe it’s really your child. You’ll shed tears and laugh And you’ll be moved to stand and cheer when the curtain falls.

They’ll write things to cause you to take pause and really think. Words with a level of maturity that will blow your mind. And some of their writing and artistic ability will make you laugh uncontrollably. And they’ll be published authors, with their fans asking for more.

This group will excel in the classroom in every subject and at the end of it all, colleges will be taking them in droves. Some will be begging them to come to their schools and paying their way! Their aspirations will exceed your imagination as these students prepare for careers in every possible field. 

And some will serve our nation. They will wear uniforms of honor and pride signifying their willingness to lay down their own lives for you. 

They will be part of groups that will teach them what working together is like. They will learn how to be a good teammate and to function as a unit to reach a singular goal. Through that, will come a depth of work ethic, sportsmanship and respect. 

These young men and women will break old records and set new standards. You’ll hear their names mentioned in recruiting classes and as scholarship recipients. They’ll be in the local paper and all over social media. Some will achieve fame!

Are you still listening?

This class will make friends and those friendships will have bonds stronger than anything you’ve seen before. Some will turn into life-long business partnerships, marriages or the kind of relationships that drop everything to be there in the best and worst times.

These, the class of 2020, will change everything for you and leave an imprint so deep, it will forever be known to all who come after them. 

One last thing. I cannot put into words how much you are going to love them. Your hearts will barely be able to contain it all. This class will move you to tears because of the depth of love you have for them. 

So? What do you say…”

“Yeah, OK, that changes things a little. I guess I’d take that.”

“So be it.”

And it was so.

2020, nothing like a little virus is going to keep you from being even more of what you already are. You are deeply loved and we, your families, friends, neighbors, teachers, coaches, directors, and fellow Oldham County residents want to say thank you for being extraordinary. 

We can’t wait to see where you will go.

Godspeed 2020.

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…