There is something about a Friday night high school football game in late October. Lost in the action of the first quarter of play the sun sets and then suddenly a level of inwardness pulls you in, under the halo of lights, to where you forget the world beyond the glow. Voices carry. Pads crack pads. Whistles echo. Bells ring. Tempers flare. Hearts swell.
To many it becomes the only thing that matters. But after last night I reaffirmed in my heart one simple conclusion: It is only a game.
Four years ago a young man walked into Hockinson High School and I don’t think anyone could have predicted how he would singlehandedly change a community. Because he loved this game.
As a freshman he would pace the visitors sideline, because it was less crowded, and as he did he recited a play by play of Hawks football in his head. He was friends with #15, #65, #55, #11 and #78, freshmen who were called up to play varsity ball and classmates from primary school. Every Friday, as part of a socialization skill he would deliver home baked cookies to each football player at lunch.
“Find #55, Colton.”
He would find #55.
“Say, ‘Good Luck’, Colton.”
“Good Luck, man!”
With a genuine smile and thanks, every player on the team respected and regarded his need to build his social skills.
Sophomore year. More of his friends moved up to varsity. More cookies were baked and delivered during lunch. More, “Good Luck, man!”. That year he was honored with a football jersey to wear on Friday nights and he moved to call his play by play behind the Hawk bench.
Junior year. More friends. More cookies. More, “Good Luck, man!”. More realization that the young man walking in front of us was perhaps the greatest Hawks fan the school had ever seen and, maybe, just maybe, a little bit more.
Senior year. More friends. More cookies. More, “Good Luck, man!” and finally a lesson in selflessness played out not on the field but on the sidelines…delivered to us by an entire football team of young men.
There were rumblings that the Hawks Greatest Fan might be nominated for Homecoming Court. And when he was, it affirmed that this young man was something special with his peers. Fast forward to the Homecoming Game. He rode the float with the court. He was announced to the thunderous cheers of the student body. He fist pumped #21 while waiting for the crowing of Homecoming King. He smiled his infectious smile. Yet, he didn’t win. #15 did. But as fast as the crown was placed on #15’s head, it was taken off, by #15’s own hands, and placed gently on Colton’s head and in that moment Colton became everyone’s Homecoming King.
Fast forward to a few weeks later, Senior Night. The last time this group of boys would play together on their home field. The last night Colton would pace the sidelines cheering on his friends. To honor him the entire Hawks football team donated their own money and purchased a letterman’s jacket, complete with an “Honorary Team Captain” patch sewn onto the left sleeve and four football pins representing the years he has been their greatest fan. He walked onto the field, hand in hand, to be a part of the pre-game coin toss.
The boys lost their final home game that night but they won big in this game we call LIFE. They didn’t make the night about THEM. They made the night about someone else. They made the night about HIM. And because of their actions off the field it has reaffirmed in my heart that when these boys walk off the field for the last time ever this November they are what we can only hope all our sons will be in life. Gentlemen. Compassionate souls. Winners.
Oh, and football? Except for maybe the Greatest Hawk Fan in school history, we should all remember. It. Is. Only. A. Game.