Countdown: #3

December 29, 2016

Each year, during the week between Christmas and New Years Day, I highlight the top 6 From The Deacon’s Desk posts of the year.

Here is #3 in the countdown, posted in July, titled: My Son the Hero

The feast of Sts. Joachim and Anne got me thinking about being a parent – how difficult it is and how we simply do our best and pray that our kids turn out OK. It reminded me of a story about my son, Rick. It remains one of the handful of stories I have written that I still cannot read without getting emotional.

I have shared it with you below:

I sat in the wooden bleachers amongst a large crowd of basketball fans gathered for the championship game. It was the culmination of the eighth grade CYO state tournament and we were there to see the best of the north take on the best of the south. My son’s team (the north) was undefeated and had not really been challenged all season.

I had always enjoyed watching Rick play basketball. He was never the most talented player and certainly did not have the height with which many of his peers had been blessed. But he loved the game and it showed. He was a scrappy player, spending as much time off his feet as on – diving for loose balls, throwing his body into the bleachers to keep the ball in-bounds, or taking a charge from an opponent twice his size. 

The opponent on that day proved to be a formidable one. The game see-sawed back and forth, going to the final seconds before the south prevailed. The gym split into extremes. The fans of the talented team from the south yelled and screamed for joy. They danced around, hugged and threw things up into the air. Victorious players rushed into the bleachers to hug their parents. Flashbulbs popped.

On the other side, the losers’ side, we stood in stunned silence. The players fought back tears as best they could. I looked around to see several parents crying. There were a couple of players who kicked chairs and threw towels and a handful of parents who went into blame mode – it was the coach’s fault, the officials’ fault, etc. – but for the most part, there was just wide-eyed amazement that this team had actually lost. Most did not know how to respond as this was all new to them.

Carol, tears in her eyes, took my hand and leaned in to me. “I feel so bad for Rick,” she said softly.

“He’ll be fine,” I assured her. That is what I said, but what I was thinking was that he would be devastated. He had put everything he had into this game and he was a very competitive young man. He would not take this well.

No one really even noticed that they were calling our team out to mid-court to receive the runner-up trophy. An assistant coach finally noticed and walked out, alone, to claim the hardware. He brought it back and set it on a chair near the bench. The forlorn team, coaches and fans continued to move about as if in a fog – sitting, standing, staring.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw one player from our team emerge. Ryan left the group and walked from mid-court, down the baseline to where the game officials had remained to watch the post-game. He extended his hand warmly, and while I am not a lip-reader, it was clear he was thanking these men for having officiated the game. Ryan was a star – a man among boys on the basketball court. He did not need to do that. He had played an unbelievable game and no one would have faulted him for continuing to sulk on the bench for as long as he wanted. What a great kid, I thought to myself.

Ryan’s attention was drawn to center court where, microphone in hand, the tournament director was congratulating the new state champions. The crowd from the south was on its feet as he began to call out the names of the victorious players. One-by-one, each went to center court to claim his individual championship trophy. The north crowd, my crowd, stared at the court blankly. I was watching Ryan head back to his teammates when another player broke from the ‘losers’ bench, took several steps toward center court, stopped, wiped away a final tear and waited for the next name to be announced. And when that name was announced, Number 33 applauded for him. The next name was called and Number 33 applauded for him. What a great kid, I thought to myself. My kid – Rick was Number 33. The hair on my arms stood up and my heart pounded. For the first time that evening, I had tears in my eyes. Even as I type this, so many years later, the hair on my arms is standing up and there are tears in my eyes.

Ryan saw what was happening and changed his course to join my son. Carol grabbed my arm and absolutely lost it – cried like a baby. We took the cue from our more-mature-than-us fourteen-year-old son and began to clap for each player on the championship team as his name was called. A few parents saw us and followed suit. Several players from the north caught on and joined Rick and Ryan out on the court – wiping away tears and applauding their victorious opponent. More parents took notice and joined in. The coaches joined the boys. By the time the last three or four names were called, everyone in the entire gym – winners, losers, officials, custodians – was on his or her feet. They were applauding for the winning team, of course. But they were also applauding the effort, courage, and graciousness of the losing team. I was applauding Number 33.

The ride home was quiet. We knew from previous experience with his many sports that Rick needed time after a loss to recover. I wanted to respect that, and to be honest, I’m not sure I could have found the words to express to him just how proud I was of him that night.

When we got home, he went right to the shower. I went to his room, jotted out a note and put it on his pillow. I was a simple note from the heart.

Ricky,

I don’t even remember the score of the game tonight. All I can remember is my son wiping away tears while he applauded the efforts of the players who had defeated him just moments before.

I have never been more proud to call you my son.

YOU ARE MY HERO! 

I love you!

Dad

Rick never said anything directly about that note. Before bed, he came in and gave Carol a hug and kiss. Carol repeated how proud we were of him. He came to me and we hugged for about as long as I could ever remember hugging someone. Then he went off to bed.

Carol and I were quiet for the remainder of the evening. Parents spend quite a bit of time doubting themselves. “You know,” I said. “Somewhere along the line – I’m not sure where or exactly what – but somewhere along the line we did something right.” Carol could only nod because she was, of course, crying.

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