John Michael continues his series Life Is a Sweet, Tender Bruise, reflecting on life and people encountered. Here, he craves the camaraderie that comes with team sports.
I did not go out for football in 8th grade, I was smaller than most all the kids. But I remember walking by the field when the team was practicing, and I just felt like I was missing something. So, despite weighing in at literally 99 lbs in 9th grade, I was back out there with the boys. Coach was kind, I guess, and registered my weight as 104 on the roster.
It is that time of year again, football time, I guess. I ran the chains for a 9th grade game the other day over at Bengal Field and the memories are pouring in.
I think sports for men are 50% about the athleticism and 50% about the camaraderie. I was not fast, in fact I was considered slow, but I was quick enough, with a feel for where the ball was going to be. So, despite my size, I found myself starting at defensive back.
I made an interception in an early game and was quite pleased with myself after running it back about ten yards or so. But the coaches and my teammates thought that, if I had run a little harder, I could have scored a touchdown. We were not much at lifting each other up back in the day.
We had a big game against Clarkston later in the season and my dad and some of his friends showed up, which made me nervous. I was never much of a tackler. And I did not know it then, but I carried a lot of fear and shame in my body at the time and was always hesitant to assert myself, which is still with me a little to this day. There are myriad of reasons for that, but let’s just call it Karma, so to speak.
In the fall, I find myself missing the athleticism, camaraderie, and community.
At any rate, I remember my thought process as I was moving towards a Clarkston ball carrier, I hope someone gets to him before I do. That was not the case and, as usual, I hesitated before tackling. I imagined I looked like a “pussy,” as we used to call each other back in the day, and I missed the tackle that was clear to everyone I should have made.
I was immediately yanked from the game and replaced by a friend of mine, never to see the starting spot again.
Clarkston had a beast of a defensive lineman and no one could stop him. I remember bald and brash coach Hathaway walking down the line of kids sitting on the bench saying, “Who wants to play tackle, do you want to play tackle?” and everyone before me saying “no” or shaking their head. So, I went in at tackle. My plan was to hit the guy as low as I could and try and take his legs out. I do not know what happened next other than me getting my bell rung awfully hard and being pulled before the next play.
I felt like maybe I had let my dad down some, but he was very kind after the game. I don’t remember him mentioning the missed tackle, but I do remember him saying he was proud of me for stepping in to play tackle when no one else would. This is making me cry a little for some reason. My folks were divorced a while by then, but the tension between them was enough. Well, I guess I’m saying I missed my dad back then and I feel myself missing him now; although, he is living in Boise, we don’t have enough contact in my mind.
By the time I was in college, I was still maybe a little underweight, but I had some height and I had added some speed to my quickness. I spent a season as a starter for the Junior Varsity basketball team and I was on the rugby club team for a couple of years and enjoyed them both.
But history did repeat itself as I missed another obvious tackle during one of our games. However, I made a discovery, if I did enough rough housing with teammates before a game, my body was far less tight and full of fear and I did not have any more major missed plays after that.
I have noticed in my personal life, I crave a lot of touch. It just reduces my anxiety quite a bit, and I notice my body tightening some without it. Although, yoga seems to help some when I find the time to do it. A girlfriend or two would be nice, but that has not been in the card as of late.
As I clear all the fear, shame, rage, and hate from my emotions, I am starting to feel athletic again. I have tried on a couple of occasions to organize a city league hoops or softball team but have not had much luck. In the fall, I find myself missing the athleticism, camaraderie, and community.