There is a country song, “Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys,” by Willie Nelson. Well, I think that should be expanded to “Don’t Let Your Babies Grow up To Be Athletes.”
I recently attended my first high school football game in years. I have three nephews, and they are all football jocks. (How does a skinny, library card-carrying, bookworm, comic book geek grow up to have three jock nephews?)
I left work early and drove to Mooresville and met my sister and her boo at her house. The game started at 7 p.m. so we left and made our way to the school. My twin nephews were traveling with the other jocks and participating in pre-game jock rituals. Go, Wild Things!
We navigated the crowded parking lot and paid for our tickets. This is when the marketing blitz began. They were hawking everything: Wild Thing jerseys, programs, pom poms, cups, Frisbees, towels, bumper stickers and, I think, even a Wild Thing toilet seat cover. Go, Wild things!
I made sure to avoid eye contact with a set of tables I called Raffle Island. They were selling tickets for all kinds of fundraisers. For a $1 investment and the chance to win a genuine faux fur Wild Thing throw rug, you could help send anyone to almost anywhere. One ticket could help send band members to band camp, cheerleaders to state finals, drama club to Broadway, science club to NASA and delinquents to reform school. Go, Wild things!
We made our way through the Wild Thing marketing mania to our seats. We found a spot up close, next to what looked like the Wild Thing cage. There was yellow tape that roped off the next section of bleachers. I was not sure if the tape was to keep us out or to keep them contained. Either way I was amazed at the level of teen narcissism. Here we were at a live game but most of the kids were texting, yelling at people or posing for pictures. Go, Wild Things!
We settled in and the teams emerged on the field. The crowd jeered and yelled with great enthusiasm. I sat on my five-dollar Wild Thing cushion filled with dental floss. My view was only occasionally interrupted by cheerleaders tossed into the air like graduation caps. The opposing team scored first, encouraging the requisite boos and growls from the Wild Thing crowd. It was around this time that my sister informed me that they did not sell cocktails at the game (insert zoom to extreme close-up and scream.) Go, Wild Things!
One nephew played for most of the game. The other actually plays for the junior varsity team but was running up and down the sidelines without a uniform, yelling at various team members. I thought surely someone would say something, but he was left unchecked to his amateur coaching. Go, Wild Things!
I started having these high school flashbacks. My feeling of nostalgia was due to my sister’s running monologue of her high school glory days on the field. Her boo and I would stare at her blankly as she randomly performed phantom moves. She was caught up in her own world, like some weird form of drill team turrets. Go, Wild Things!
The game came down to the final seconds with my nephew’s team losing. The Wild Thing crowd next to us scattered in a whirlwind of hair care products, giggles and teen spirit. It was like there had been a Justin Bieber sighting in the parking lot. Go, Wild Things!
The nephew who did not play was holding court with a bevy of jock groupies near the concession stand. He was regaling his harem with his take on why they had lost the game. I resisted the urge to yell, “Hey, nephew: I picked up that salve you asked for from the pharmacy. It should help with that itching and burning.” Go, Wild Things!
It is weird how, after all these years, the high school dynamic has not changed. I looked around, and if you changed the music and fashion to the early 80s, it was like being back in high school. You still had the popular kids, mean girls, band members, nerds, emos, geeks and jocks. Go, Wild Things!
Referencing my earlier song analogy, parents of athletes have to be very committed. Between the practices, home games, away games, pep rallies and playoffs, being a young athlete is a full-time gig. I was a geek as a kid. So other than my bowling league in a climate-controlled environment and the occasional science fair, I was pretty low maintenance. Go, Wild Things!
My other nephew finally emerged from the locker room, surly and ill tempered due to the team’s loss. I hugged him and told him how proud I was and how well he played, but it was little solace.
I know he was glad I came, but he declined to ride home with the family, instead choosing to ride home with one of his fellow football warriors. I watched my nephew, this teen titan, disappear into the night, and I felt a little reflective that, although we now had different interest and I knew little of his rockstar, jock world, I could proudly from time to time cheer him on from the stands. Go, Wild Thing.