MOLALLA, Ore. — Like many of you, I love sports. There are a million reasons why we love to play or love to watch our favorite teams. When this love collides with the love we have for our children and family, it creates intense — often crazy — emotions.
Much has been written about the over-the-top parents and coaches who simply take it too far. Additionally, it seems we’ve been bombarded with news of scandal after scandal in college sports, and there is never a shortage of negative stories coming from the pro ranks.
But among all the negativity, every once in a while we are reminded of the real reasons we love sports. It has very little to do with wins or loses, who gets more playing time or more recognition. It has everything to do with team, relationships, commitment and hard work.
This past Friday night I was blessed to witness and be reminded of these real reasons. I was taught by a group of young men, a team, who plays football in its purest form. They play for love — love for the game and, more importantly, love for each other.
To explain, I have to set the stage. Unfortunately that includes boasting a bit about my oldest son Christian. I apologize in advance for my pride, but, after all, I’m his dad.
Christian has always loved sports. When he was little, he would fall asleep with a basketball or football in his hands. Last year, his junior year at Molalla High School in Molalla, Ore., he had very successful seasons in football, basketball and track. He was first team, all-league in each. But he understands that it’s not about one person. The class he is in, the Class of 2012, is extremely gifted in many ways. They are great students and pay the price in the classroom. They are very outgoing and respectful. They are very gifted athletically. But most importantly, they grew up together and they are extremely loyal and supportive of one another. Any success or recognition that one receives is a reflection of the entire group, and they know that.
With this group heading into their senior year, the expectations for success are high and they have been absolutely chomping at the bit to get started. They lost their first football game by three points to a top-five team. They had the game won, but just couldn’t put it away. Christian had 12 catches, 206 yards and three touchdowns, a great start to his senior season.
In their second game they played a team that, on paper, they should beat. It was an important game for the team. They needed to get that first win and learn how to finish games. In the second quarter, Molalla was leading 12-6. Christian already had 123 yards and one touchdown.
Then the unthinkable happened.
Christian went deep and was very closely guarded. He went up and caught the ball at the top of his jump. As he came down, the defender came down on Christian’s ankle.
I do statistics for the team, so I was no more than 10 yards away from Christian when he came down. He rolled over and motioned to the sideline that something was wrong. I quickly yelled, “Get up!” He looked over at me and pointed to his foot. His ankle was obviously dislocated. The medics where there almost immediately as they started to cut off the $85 cleats we had purchased two days prior.
Christian had turned over to his stomach to keep his foot in the air. I remained on the sideline for a few seconds in disbelief. Christian’s coach, Kaleb Mitchell, was there faster than anybody. He was on his knees with his hands out in front holding Christian’s hands. Christian was surprisingly calm, but he and his coach shared some time crying together, hand in hand, on the ground as the medics worked. At one point, Mitchell’s head was resting on the ground, bowed as if he was praying. I heard Christian say, “I caught it coach. It will be all right.”
The relationship between coaches and athletes is part of what is right about sports.
Christian’s Mom, Jill, was soon at my side, in tears as we looked on. I looked over to the bench and his team was on its knees, stunned and concerned. Soon, a faint chant started in the student section and grew to the entire crowd and team: “We love Parker. We love Parker.”
School unity and love is part of what is right about sports.
Splints were placed and Christian was lifted onto a gurney. The crowd was still chanting when Christian put up his hand and gave a thumbs-up. They cheered louder. Before his coach left, Christian told him to tell the team that he loved them and to finish the game.
Learning that the whole (team, family, religion, country) is more important than the one (self) is part of what is right about sports.
Christian was taken to the ER where they reset his ankle and put it in a soft cast. Christian started driving the nurses (and me) crazy because he wanted to leave and get back to the game. We left and quickly drove back to the stadium. We missed the end of the game, a game where Molalla went flat after the injury but then bounced back to win.
Learning to endure through adversity is part of what is right about sports.
We arrived in time to get into the locker room before everyone left. Christian got out of the car and on his crutches and made his way to the locker room. Before arriving, Christian was met by the cheers from parents who were waiting for their kids.
The sense of community that sports can bring is part of what is right about sports.
I was staying close to Christian. His body had been through a lot and I didn’t want something else to happen. I opened the door to the locker room and then followed him in. The locker room erupted in cheers and immediately they engulfed Christian. I backed away and found a corner where I could just watch. One by one, each of his teammates gave him a hug and told him that they loved him. Almost every senior was in tears. They had just won a big game, yet they were devastated at what it cost. The importance of winning melted away as the love they have for each other took over.
Understanding that there are things in life more important than winning is part of what is right about sports.
These tough, senior football players sobbed as they hugged Christian. His best friend was nearly inconsolable. His coaches, especially Mitchell, were in tears.
Team, friendship, love, concern and loyalty are part of what is right about sports.
It was an emotional weekend for the Parkers and the Molalla Indians. We are disappointed but grateful it wasn’t worse. We are grateful for family and good friends, both Christian’s and ours. We are very grateful for a coach who, above everything else — even above wins — loves his kids.
We are grateful for Christian and his teammates, the Molalla Indians, for showing us, reminding us, what is most important and what is really right about sports.
Troy Parker is the Executive Director of "The Moroni Project", a non-profit that conceives & executes initiatives that support LDS youth. He also blogs at troygparker.wordpress.com . Troy lives in Molalla, Oregon, with his wife Jill and two sons.