It all started in 2003; Mark was five and Jack was three. It was time for outdoor sports. For three years, Mark played soccer with Dad coaching and for three years, everyone did their best, had fun, and rarely won a game. When Jack turned five he started six years of baseball – T-ball, Coach-Pitch, Rookie, then finally AAA ball. It was fun for the first five years but as the kids got bigger, they threw harder and it hurt to get hit and Jack got tired of playing right field and always losing. Mark joined Jack for a couple years of ball but became increasingly terrified of the ball and just got tired of being on a losing team. He joined marching band the following year where he got the fun of being outside and wearing a uniform but without being hit and without losing. Everyone supported each other, everyone worked hard, and everyone won. Then Jack tried football. The first year was great, he played lots and loved his coaches and it didn’t bother him that the team won only a couple times. Everything went sideways the next year as the leadership fell to pieces and the kids were left to flounder. That was it for team sports, or so they thought. In the meantime, the boys tried volleyball, floor hockey, ice hockey, swimming, golf, and diving but nothing sparked an interest.
After a year of no outdoor or team sports, Mark decided to try out for his high school football team. After a week of practice, he was on the team and practicing every day after school for three hours. The team consisted of kids from grades 10-12, with Mark being one of the handful of grade tens. Mark suffered a concussion at practice in the second week, allergies and hives in the third week, and an asthma attack in the fourth. But he didn’t stop wanting to be on the team. Game after game went by. Mark was in uniform, helmet and all, on the sidelines week after week, waiting for his opportunity to play. The season that had started in the warm summer was now into its final weeks and as the trees lost their leaves, Mark lost hope that he would ever play.
Mum and Jack came to watch game six, as they did every game, on a Friday night just before Halloween. The sky was a mass of ominous grey cloud with only a sliver of dark sky visible and as soon as the game started, the sun hid behind the hill which appeared gloomy, covered in leafless trees.
By the end of the first quarter, the Cardinals were up 21-0 over the Falcons. Mum and Jack were used to scores like that, but always from the other side. This time we were the home team and we were the ones ahead. It was surreal. Mark was on the sidelines, cheering on his team, giving high-fives and pats on the back to every player as they came off the field as he did every game.
The second quarter was almost identical to the first and by the end of the first half the Cardinals were up 49-0. It was an odd feeling to be a parent on the positive side of that score but to be at least as anxious as one would expect when the score is tied. Mum couldn’t stand the suspense – would he get to play in the second half? Would he get the ball? Jack got them an order of fries from the food truck during the break while Mum tried not to pace.
The Falcons stopped throwing the ball in the third quarter which put an end to the interceptions and the score remained the same. Mark remained on the sideline and continued to pump up his fellow players. At the start of the fourth quarter, the offensive coach grabbed Mark by the arm and pulled him to the front of the players on the sideline. Mum started to freak out in the stands but the third down came and went and the defensive line went out. Not yet. Again the offensive coach pulled Mark up and again the offensive push finished without him. Mum was rocking on the cold bench at this point, wondering what it was going to take for Mark to get in. Cardinals were now up 56-0. Three minutes left on the clock and the offensive coach grabbed Mark during the first down. The second down came and he still wasn’t in. On the third down, one of the players came running off the field and Mark was sent in. He was on the field, really truly on the field! He lined up behind the all the other players. Mum wasn’t sure what that meant. Then the ball was tossed back, and passed to Mark. He ran with the ball straight into the other team. First down! He did it! It was only a few yards but he did it! Mark ran off the field, thrilled with having been there with the ball. All of the coaches and players now gave him high-fives and cheered as he joined them on the sidelines. Mum and Jack cheered as loud as they could and Mark turned and gave them a big double thumbs-up before turning back to his teammates.