REFLECTIONS: Heroes of today shaping those of the future

There were cheers, then fears, then even some tears. All human reactions to the hopes and dreams, the feeling of it’s not to be, and the reality of that first loss of the year — the district final.

So many before these young men on the Coyote football team had seen losing seasons, one game right after another. Though it hurt, they held their heads high, and moved on through school, and on into their adult lives. They had no choice.

Life is a series of one day at a time. Lots of people live in the “what ifs” of the past and others live in the “what ifs” of the future. The Reed City Coyotes lived and thrived in the “what ifs,” one game at a time.

Friday night, it ended, or so it must have felt. Contrary, I say. I watched these young men excel throughout the season, and battle hard Friday night.

More than that, more than all they did on that football field, I saw them not as a rough, tough bunch of high school boys, but as very capable young men.

On and off the field.

I saw and heard and felt respect. I saw these young men stand tall the other night, and I saw tears. I had my own. I wanted them to win too.

And yet, I saw and heard the respect they offered the other team. Stood there as the winners took possession of the district trophy, but our young men did not stand there as losers. They stood there knowing they had done their best. Night after night. Practice after practice. Game after game.

And I will never forget the day of that district final. I went to their pep rally at the high school. Before the rest of the high school poured into the gym, about 500 elementary school kids arrived. The football players and cheerleaders gave those little kids something they will never forget — themselves.

Friday was the day a whole lot of the little kids got autographs signed by their heroes. The football players. The cheerleaders.

And you guys and gals gave it your all for those little kiddies. Moving among them. Shaking their hands. Signing their names on slips of paper as dozens of more hands reached out for one too. And you obliged as long as you could.

When it was time for them to leave you didn’t ignore them. You slapped hands with them, was the second half of a high five to a tiny little boy, picked up a little girl, taught them you big guys and beautiful gals are very real heroes. The ones they see in their homes, on the streets, in the stores, at school, not only on the football field or along the sidelines.

I watched as a little guy met a football player on the edge of the football field coming his way just before the game started. He was headed north, you were headed south. Both just walking, and yet when that little guy put out his hand just before he got to you, you responded by putting out yours. The boy and the man. The hero who cared. You. How far more important that is than however many games you win, that you mattered to a little boy and he mattered to you.

Maybe in another six or seven years you’ll come back and see a taller kid on that sideline wearing your old number, just because. Just because you were the man you were back when he was just a little kid. Or maybe you showed him it’s OK to cry. Big men do that. It doesn’t make them small. Tears can make a big man bigger in my eyes.

Reed City is proud of you. I am amazed by you. Proud too. I will never forget you big kids. I don’t know most of your names or remember your numbers or know your GPA or your favorite cheers, but I know I’m proud to have stood along the sidelines on the nights you won and especially on the night you lost.

You gave it your all. And earlier that day, you took time to let little kids meet their heroes.

Thank you for what you did for your school, your town, and for those of us who barely know who you are, but do know what you are. Men and women we can be and are proud to say we know.

P.S. Um, may I have your autograph?