High school sports: More than just a game
On Aug. 7, the first day of school on a Thursday, while new freshmen at McIntosh were cautiously feeling their way through the social minefield of high school, the girls on the Lady Chiefs softball team had a different focus since their first game was just one week away.
I know, I know, when you think of high school sports your mind drifts to football. But if you think the girls are more dainty than boys in their early season workouts, that their teeth-clenched grunts and grimaces are softer, that their yells of signals to each other are any less intense, their leaps at the ball not as strained, their stare in the batter’s box not as steely or the smell of their sweat not quite so foul, then you haven’t been hanging around the softball players at McIntosh, Whitewater, Starr’s Mill or any of the other competing schools.
During the summer, being an out-of-touch old fogey I rolled my eyes at the very idea of my daughter, Melanie, hiring a photographer to take her senior pictures. When I saw the photos, though, just like the rest of the dads who know their girl can make herself into a breathtaking young woman, I said, “Wow, you are too pretty for words.” And I meant it. But when Melanie suits up for softball, tightens the laces on her cleats and gets her game face on, like her Lady Chief teammates she is leaving delicacy behind as a warrior preparing for battle.
When they step on the field to warm up, the air can be electric with tension as they flex, pump up the force of their throws to each other, stretch legs and steal glances at the other team, quickly searching for strengths and weaknesses, hoping for the Johnny Rutherford brand of luck, which he described as opportunity meeting preparation.
In their first game against the Drew Titans, as I watched Melanie sliding in a cloud of red dust into second to steal a base, her favorite part of the game, I thought back to her very first day of softball at seven years old, and how far she has come. As this season progresses under the guidance of coach Carlie Anderson, each Lady Chiefs player will sharpen the skill of her position, run a little faster, throw a little harder, slide a little lower, swing the bat with more confidence and come to rely on each other for execution and backup. There is excitement and camaraderie in knowing your fellow player has your back, and when the competitive pressure is on and the noise from players and the crowd is at a fever pitch, memories are being made of some of the best moments at high school.
Melanie will be leaving softball behind after this year as college opens new chapters in her life. Sports have given her vital lessons in demanding ever more of yourself, trying again and again until you succeed doing what seemed impossible, teamwork, respect for officials even when you think they are wrong, the thrill of adrenalin-pumped conflict in the struggle of a close game, grace in defeat as well as victory.
I know when softball is behind her, when Melanie passes by a field with a game in progress she will fondly remember certain moments like deftly sliding under the legs of a defender to steal, the sweet crack of a well-hit ball, the satisfaction of a stretched running catch in the outfield. Maybe most of all she will miss post-game relaxation with her teammates away from the prying eyes of parents when they lay against their equipment bags, blow the hair out of their sweat-striped faces, wipe the caked dirt off their elbows, ignore the scraped skin on a knee where their pants got torn, indulge in a Coke and following belches along with laughs about this play and that, content just to be together for a while with the ones they learned to trust and work with like a well-oiled machine.
But the season has just begun, and the Lady Chief teammates have many of these moments, and memories, yet to come.
[Terry Garlock of Peachtree City occasionally contributes a column to The Citizen. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.]