Passing on covering football for family
Sometimes it takes the wisdom of a 2-year-old to gain perspective.
With five little words, I knew I made the right decision.
Hope sat in the backseat, holding her brother Ethan’s hand.
We had just pulled into the driveway of the Minnesota home he lives in 95 percent of the year.
“I’m going to miss you,” she said in the saddest voice you ever heard.
“I’m going to miss you too Hope,” my 11-year-old son said in return.
I’m often on the verge of tears every time I drop my son off, but that pushed me over the edge.
And that moment trumped any highlight Friday night football would have provided.
Just six days earlier, I found myself wrestling with whether my family was going to come out after all.
My full-time job was the busiest it’s ever been. I just had finished helping with the fall sports preview tab at the paper. My car’s air conditioning broke about a month ago and I’ve yet to find a reasonable mechanic to fix it and my wife Bobbi made it very clear that we weren’t traveling 12 hours in the car without AC.
The opening weekend of high school football was falling on Labor Day weekend, something I wasn’t real pleased with either since for the last several years it had been the weekend prior. The kickoff of the high school football season ranks in my top 10 favorite days of the year and for the first time in 15 years, I was going to miss it.
When the season started Friday night, I was 12 hours away, driving to Ironwood Springs, the Labor Day destination of my family for four of the last five years.
Instead of seeing a quarterback leveled with a sack from behind, I was watching Hope run from the car to the nearly tackle her brother in a moment of pure joy when we picked him up.
Instead of enjoying the giddiness I have listening to the bands, the anthem and seeing the teams tear out of the locker room, I smiled as I listened to the Korte Krew sing the theme of Veggie Tales while we drove.
Instead of watching an acrobatic catch over the middle, I got a thrill out of the precision Ethan and I had in getting the tent up in the dark in a matter of moments.
There were a half dozen reasons not to go to Minnesota for just four short days to visit with my son. But as it turned out, there was hundreds of others to make that trek.
As I drove west, I was reminded of a couple of conversations I had a few months ago.
In the middle of the summer, two of our area coaches made the surprising decisions to step down. Buckeye Central football coach Jason Ratliff and Upper Sandusky boys basketball coach Shane Adams unexpectedly resigned from their roles.
Both had their reasons, but the bottom line in each situations was how important the coaches felt relationships were.
“When you’re the head coach, you deal with fundraisers, media, problems with the kids in school, grades, etc. At Buckeye Central, it’s never been about the wins and losses. It’s about the lessons they learn when they are with us,” said Ratliff, who teaches at Willard. “That means more to me than wins and losses. When you’re not around the kids, you leave a lot of those things on the table because you’re not seeing them throughout the rest of the day. I’ll see them for two hours a day from August to November and then not much throughout the rest of the year. So it’s a lot of backtracking because of things I’m missing.”
Adams echoed those same thoughts.
“I felt I needed to do a better job in that I needed more time to teach those kids what excellence really is and not settle for mediocrity. I think you need to see the kids every day and be able to show you care about them more than just on the basketball court,” said Adams, who works for Shoot-A-Way. “You care about their family life and their schooling. There’s so many things they’re going through in a day. They hear 30,000 messages a day and you need to be there to have a voice. If you’re not there, you’re not hearing about it until it’s too late. It’s hard to do that when you’re not in the school.”
Adams has two sons you would see at nearly every game. Adams’ ambition to one day coach his young boys was trumped by other things.
“I would have loved to coach my boys,” he said. “But I want to be their dad first. It’s more important than to be their coach.”
In today’s mobile world, it’s so hard to unplug and disconnect so you can connect with those around you.
Don’t get me wrong. Technology certainly has its perks as far as relationship building goes, from video chats with my son and my family to the ability to reach someone in a matter of seconds, but our constant connection to the world has its drawbacks as well.
We left Thursday afternoon and my wife did much of the driving because I had work to do. As Thursday turned into Friday, I continued to work instead of using the vacation time I had scheduled myself to take. Instead of 24 hours of vacation, I took only five. As my wife said Friday night, “I think you worked enough today. You need to spend time with your family.”
So I unplugged. No more replies to e-mails. No more checking in to see if I got that call I was waiting for.
And when Zach called Saturday afternoon to see if this column was going to be ready for Sunday’s paper, I told him it would have to wait.
It would have to wait until after watching “Brave Ethan” as Hope calls him, conquer his fears and ride down the zip line for the first time ever. And then twice more.
It would have to wait until after visiting with my childhood best friend of 27 years, Steve, who lives just a half hour from where we camped for the weekend.
It would have to wait until after Hope enjoyed her last push on the swing, saying “Higher Daddy. Higher.”
It would have to wait until after Ethan and I built a Star Wars Legos battleship, because my son is turning into the nerd his father is.
Earlier this year, I traveled to California for five weeks for a client I support. When Hope was asked where Daddy works, she said “California.”
She started to pretend she had her own laptop and was “going to work.”
What will my legacy be with my children?
With my wife?
With my friends?
Will it be the guy who worked all the time? Or will it be the guy who made the time?
While it was disappointing to miss opening night of the high school football season, I didn’t miss out on the opportunities to grow the relationships that are most vital to me.
Those are the highlights worth sharing.
Those are the memories that will last.
And in the end, that’s the score I really care about.
Aaron Korte is a sports writer for the Advertiser-Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.