Monday, October 5, 2015

Faith, Football and just being boys!

"Dad!  Did you just see that hit?  I smoked that kid!!" were the words my son Isaiah victoriously yelled as he ran off the field last night.  It was the final play of the game and Isaiah, all 60 pounds of him, plays offensive line for his fifth/sixth grade football team, the Knights.  The final play of the game concluded with Isaiah and the offense on the field and a 90 yard touchdown the other team.  And here, on the sidelines, as the clock ran down and the score read 38-0, was my boy running to me to let me know that he just knocked a kid off of his feet.  At that moment in time it didn't matter that for the sixth straight game the Knights had not scored a single point.  It never registered that a kid his size should not be playing offensive line against opponents twice his size or more.  And it certainly never sank in that when you are 0-6, scoreless, and undersized you are absolutely NOT supposed to have fun playing football!
Yet this is how all of our athletes left the field!  Focused on their one or two plays that they "rocked"!  Excited for the Gatorade and Rice Krispie bar waiting for them.  Not at all concerned with scores, records or yards.  On this night they were eighteen 5th graders, our only 6th grader out with an injury, that in two months had literally moved mountains just to stay vertical in this game.  For most this was their first experience with pads and helmets.  It was their first time learning that football hurts and the little guy has to work harder.
I've learned a lot from this group of boys, and I use the word boys respectfully. As a teacher to many of them and a dad to one of them I have never learned so much from 10 and 11 year olds.  In a society and culture where our news is riddled with negative images, school violence and religious debates about everything under the sun, these boys have been a breath of fresh air.  They have given me energy on Monday mornings with their excitement and recollection of the previous nights game.
  I don't bring a lot to the football coaching arena.  I'm what you might call the "get back coach" or the guy that yells the obvious stuff at the wrong time.  My goal when I agreed to help coach was to make sure my own son didn't get obliterated, so far so good!  Yet over the course of the last months I have learned so much more from these boys than they have learned from me.
In a league founded on the values of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes I have watched our team meet before every practice and devote a few minutes to connecting with their faith and each other. Isaiah, our prayer warrior at home, even volunteered in pregame to pray over his teammates.  An experience that every dad should have!
Boys like my own have had to pour every thing they have physically into a game that most would say is not built for them.  Their biggest asset has been their effort and attitude, something we preach to them daily!  Boys that when they stand across the field from their opponents they make the phrase "men among boys" ring true, just that we are truly the boys!
I've seen boys scared to death to take the field and yet when called upon to go slay the giant, their inner David comes out and they give the best their body can muster.  Not many giants fell this year with the Knights on the field but a lot of Davids have been showing up.
If football and life could be combined into one simple package, and a victor be named they would call on the Brandon Knights to take home the honor.  Being the underdog week in and week out has been a frustration for everyone on the sideline, but these boys!  They have tackled every obstacle, not necessarily every ball carrier, with a smile and sportsmanship like I have never seen.  Blow out or not they are ready to shake your hand and congratulate you on being the winner, not necessarily the better team!  Because we all know the Knights are the better team!
The way I see it, when you stand back and watch a group of boys, that are allowed to be boys you can learn an awful lot.  You see the simple things in life.  Where adults see failure because of a scoreless game, these boys saw success in their sweet new helmets.  When the adults were frustrated that another loss hit the books, these boys were happy to "whip the nae nae" to the music blaring overhead.  And where the adults were busy trying to find less than acceptable ways to win or score, these boys were excited for the hit the smallest kid laid on the biggest!
You see, I love the spirit of these boys.  By all adult standards they should be down and out.  They should be mad, disappointed, discouraged and definitely NOT dancing!  As much as society says they should not be...they are!
They are champions!
They are fighters!
They are boys!
They are Knights!

One final thought.. I always enjoy the drive to the game with Isaiah.  It gives us a chance to talk and for me to see where his head is at.  Yesterday he didn't want to talk about football.  He wanted to talk about recent happenings in the news.  Some school violence only 10 miles from our door, followed by a horrific situation on an Oregon campus.  He knew details because of the news and he knew that people in Oregon lost their lives when they were asked if they were Christians.  He wanted to talk about that!  He just wanted me to know that he would have done the same!  He would have answered that Yes, he was a Christian, despite knowing the outcome.  What?! Did we just have this conversation?  At 10 years old my boy is making that decision?  It saddens me that he feels he has to make that decision but it gives me great pride that he has already made it.
I don't want my boy to grow up too fast, as I love to watch him be 11.  But I know that the lessons he is learning now from the other boys and men in his life are making him into a great person. Our world has put a lot of pressure on these boys as they grow into adulthood.  My prayer is that we can slow down and enjoy them for who they are and what they are, boys!
For today, as we get ready to celebrate an 11th birthday in our house I hope my son, and his little brother, always know and believe...
He is a champion!
He is a fighter!
He is a boy!
He is a Knight!
And...more importantly, in his own words, "#IamaChristian"