For more on area sports from Reggie Hayes, follow him on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/reggiehayes1
The pang in my gut hit as soon as Shawn Shearer started talking about throwing the football around with his son in the backyard. The bittersweet season has arrived.
I met Shearer about five years ago on the baseball diamond. He was coaching a New Haven team with his son, Vance, and I was coaching an Ossian team with my son, Reggie. Shearer is the type of coach I like the most: enthusiastic and competitive, but wise enough to see that the game is not the be-all and end-all of existence.
Fathers and sons and their relationships, that's the real deal.
As the years passed, Vance turned into a pretty good quarterback at New Haven and Reggie turned into a pretty good wide receiver at Norwell and somehow those little kids turned into young men without warning us.
Now senior year is here. I'm not sure I'm ready.
I called Shearer, and he assured me that's a universal vibe for football dads.
“Vance and I just recently went out in the yard and threw the ball around a little bit,” Shearer said, “and I was thinking, every year it's gotten less and less. That's the thing that happens to dads. How many hours did you spend throwing the ball around, working on mechanics and talking about things that happen in games? As they get older, it's less and less. They get busy.”
Shearer is fortunate because, as New Haven junior varsity football coach, he's on the sidelines Friday nights when Vance takes snaps. I'm fortunate because News-Sentinel Sports Editor Tom Davis allows me to write Northeast Hoosier Conference stories off Norwell games, where I can be on the sidelines when Reggie runs routes.
Both of us – and all those dads out there with senior football players – know the clock is ticking.
We get one more fall of Friday nights to enjoy. I can't wait for it to get started. And I dread it coming to an end.
Nine games and the playoffs, that's all that's left. After all the peewee leagues, junior high games, camps, carpools and countless cleats, we can now measure the high school football time left in weeks.
“The thing about football, unlike baseball or basketball, is that you only get one of these a week,” Shearer said. “From that perspective, each game is that much more special. That's been heavy on my mind.”
There's nothing in sports like watching your son or daughter play in high school. It's different from being a fan of a pro team. You might love the Colts, stock your man cave with Colts memorabilia and own possess autographed photos of Peyton Manning, circa 2004, but cheering for the Colts is lip-synching compared to cheering for your child.
When Reggie makes a great play or helps win a big game, “thrilled” doesn't quite capture how it makes me feel. When he makes a mistake or suffers a tough loss, I feel a shot to the gut that would sting less if it was an actual punch. Failure is a great teacher, the cliche says, but I always wished I could let him skip a few of those lessons.
As dads, we often want to rehash the plays, good and bad, and surrender to the temptation to let our sons know what they did right and wrong. I consciously work to avoid this. It's more important to be dad than analyst.
“I've matured in that aspect,” Shearer said. “If Vance makes mistakes, particularly now that he's been in high school, I'm the cheerleader. I go pat him on the butt and say, 'Let's straighten it out.' If he's going to get screamed at, I'll let him get screamed at by Coach (Jim) Rowland.”
High school football remains different from other sports. It takes more players to be a great team than any other sport and, as such, more true teammates to share the load. Shearer points to the finality of the sport when it ends in high school. You can play pickup basketball or over-35 baseball. Football is finite. Most players will never play another game of football after high school.
“It's such a relationship-driven sport,” Shearer said. “You don't have perspective on it at 17 or 18. But someday, they'll see why you still have those guys talking about these experiences and times and games when they're older. It's an incredible experience.”
Being a football dad is different, too. You see the game as a whole, but you always see that one player. There he is, your son, the kid who threw the ball around with you so many times for so many years.
It's funny. I've covered football for 30 years. When I sit back and remember my favorite games, my son has played in every one.