I grew up in a football family. My dad played in college. He coached too. My two brothers were starting linemen for the Grants Pass Cavemen. So in 1988, after college and before marriage and during my first years as a teacher in the Sherwood School District, it was really no surprise that over lunch in the staff room with the athletic director the subject of football came up. He had hired one coach but was scrambling to find someone else qualified to fill the other position before Monday. Well, somewhere between my pastrami on rye and the oreo cookie desert he came up with the idea of hiring me! With a little push, a little shove, and a big ol’ prayer the following Monday I was introduced to twenty twelve-year-olds as the Red Raiders defensive coordinator and passing coach. I have never looked into backing up the claim, but I was told back then I was the first female football coach in the state of Oregon.
I can still remember those days of coaching football vividly. I remember the eyes of parents and players casting doubts on my qualifications as I stood next to the athletic director when he introduced me. I remember putting those eyes of doubt back into their sockets after the first few passing drills of the season when (thank the Lord above) I was spot on in my leading passes to the receivers as well as convincing my boys that the peal of a coaches whistle sounds the same, whether it is produced from the lungs of a man or a woman. I remember hot September days. Bear crawls down the field. The smell of sweat. The sound of helmets on helmets. Defensive hand signals. My first win. Bus rides across the Willamette Valley with 7th grade boys singing Hammer Time and Ice Ice Baby. I remember my team standing beside me when we defeated the undefeated Woodburn team and their coach refused to shake my hand, because I was a woman…and a football coach. My boys learned a powerful lesson that day. I remember my boys growing up to be young men who in their senior year played in the Oregon State 3A football championship game. I had ‘retired’ from teaching to start a family the year they made it to the championship game but I was still asked to come back for the pre game assembly, to celebrate with my boys. Although I only coached one year, they were my boys throughout the years. I get the whole football brotherhood thing except it wouldn’t be fare to call my experience a brotherhood because it was obviously much more maternal to me. They were my boys and I was their “mom”. I guess you could say it was my first time being a Mom of Fall.
Last week I drove by our middle school and was flushed with a minor wave of excitement when I saw they were painting the lines on the football field. Without fail, white lines on a football field lead me back to the sharp staccato of a coaches whistle echoing across a lush green turf in a small town in the northern Willamette Valley. White lines lead me back to when I first became a Mom of Fall.
I have a son who plays high school ball. I remember the first parent meeting of his freshman year, when the high school coach introduced himself and welcomed us to the game of “legalized assault”. Yikes! Not exactly comforting words spoken to a parent of a 127 pound freshman who was going to get some varsity play AND especially when it is delivered by a man whose name is Coach Steele. He has a first name, but Coach just seems more fitting. There is a word in literature, onomatopoeia. It means a word that imitates the sound associated with the object. Like buzz or murmur. Coach Steele is the personified onomatopoeia of football. Steele. Close your eyes and imagine a football coach with the last name Steele…if you envision a towering hulk of a man with a shaved head, booming voice, and push broom mustache you are seeing the man we give our sons to every August. You are seeing what we, the Moms of Fall, see every Friday night under the lights.
The Moms of Fall…we are the women who make the meals, ring the cow bells, work the concession stands, bake the cookies, un-tie the un-tieble shoe lace, organize the fund raisers, freeze the ice packs, pass out the good luck York Peppermint Patties, stand in the driving rain huddled under an umbrella, log in hundreds of travel miles, pray, text updates to loved ones, find the missing knee pad, fill the fridge with 5000 calorie meals, hand over our mini-vans to 1400 lbs of raw testosterone, throw fall fashion to the wind for the sake of a team sweatshirt, take the pictures, watch punt returns through spread fingertips, and we are the women who hope for the best out of our sons and expect humility in return.
Our first game of the season is this Friday night. The brotherhood of Friday night lights will illuminate even the smallest of communities across the country. And beyond the lights a sisterhood just as endearing and important will take their place behind their team. We are the moms. We are The Moms of Fall.