Dad decides to punt instead of limiting sons' sports options


November 12, 1994|By ROB KASPER

Not so long ago, when we were rookie parents plotting our children's lives, my wife and I decided that we would never let our precious offspring play organized football.

The game was too rough. The kids might get hurt, as I did when I played high school football. We decided the prudent course would be to "guide" our children away from football and toward other, "more uplifting" undertakings.

That was the theory. Reality hit this fall when my wife and I took turns hurrying to some distant football field to yell encouragement to our 13-year-old, the right end.

The kid loved playing football. He liked the dirt, the team mentality, the slamming into other players, the momentary glory that came from catching a pass or making a tackle. All the things, in short, that we thought we should "protect" him from.

This was entry-level football. There were referees, but among the more frequent calls they made were failure to wear a mouth piece -- a five-yard penalty -- and moving before the ball was snapped, a maneuver in which my son's team excelled.

Our fledgling football player was not alone, of course. There were 21 other kids, sometimes more, on the field, joining in the fray. There was a healthy supply of parents, hollering for their blockers, tacklers and artful dodgers. The other night, in the twilight of what was the last game of the season, the knot of parents I hollered with told me they, too, had once believed that their kids would never play football.

HTC But that, we agreed, was long ago when our kids were seemingly able to be molded by us. Now these kids have become teen-agers, getting more independent by the digital minute. The question has become who is molding whom.

For instance, in this, my first year as a football father, I have learned a lot. Some of what I learned was similar to the lessons I picked up when my two sons played other sports. In all these sports, I start off the season believing I am going to teach my kid about life, and a few weeks later I feel like the one who is the student.

This season, for example, I learned that after a kid has fought off blockers on the football field, he somehow finds it easier to ward off parental edicts at home on what kind of music is worth listening to.

I learned that after a group of 13-year-olds have worked together to execute a complex "hook and ladder" football play, they somehow seem more comfortable relying on each other, and not solely on adults, to make their way through the world, at least through the world of homework assignments.

Which is another way of saying I learned that as kids get bigger and sweatier, they also get more confident and opinionated. And less readily impressed with the pronouncements of their elders.

Some people might think it ironic that a guy who once scoffed at the notion that his kids would play football now drives halfway around Baltimore to see a middle school football game.

I don't. I think that compared to other parents I know, I am getting off pretty easy in the parental travel department. I think, for example, of a couple of mothers I know who this summer trekked to tournaments in Memphis, Birmingham, and Virginia Beach with their tennis-playing daughters.

I think of a father who drove his son to Raleigh, N.C., for a soccer tournament, only to see his son break a toe in the first 10 minutes of the first game. And I think of a Salisbury-dwelling dad who used a recent visit to Baltimore to make the elaborate plan necessary to buy a shot -- a heavy metal ball -- that his son, a fledgling shot putter, wanted to toss in the back yard. The dad found a sporting goods store in Glen Burnie that, while it did not have a shot rolling around on its shelves, would order one. The salesman who placed the order happened to live in Denton. A plan was hatched: when the shot arrives in Glen Burnie, the salesman will transport it to Denton where he will rendezvous with the dad. Soon the shot will be sailing through the Salisbury sky.

Compared to all this maneuvering, I figure a drive on the expressway, even during rush hour, is light duty.

Which brings me to the main lesson I learned this football season: When it comes to predicting what sports my kids are never going to play, or what contortions I will never go through to watch my kids compete, I will never again say never.

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