Our son played four years of Maryville High School football. To my knowledge, of those four years, he never missed a practice, scrimmage, game, weight training session (aside from when he tore his ACL during a practice. Even then, he still made a presence at every session encouraging his teammates).

Our son was not at all the star athlete. He stood on the sidelines way more than he played. Each of the non-star-athlete parents were waiting for the near end of the game when our sons would go in and we might get 30 seconds of video or a quick action shot for our scrapbooks. We might even get to see them make one play.

One night, for our family, it came and IT. WAS. EPIC!

It was a fumble recovery in his senior year against Bearden (I think it was a playoff game). It was at the very end of the game, with only seconds left to play, all of the fans were packing up to go on the field to greet their player. Not many saw it because they were busy and the game was really already over and we had won.

However, we watched every single play when our son was in the game. When he made that fumble recovery, we cheered louder than any fan in the history of high school football as if he won the game for the team. We were so proud of him.

My family and I spent hours sitting on those hard bleachers along with other non-star-athlete parents watching our sons stand the majority of the time on the sidelines. They stood next to each other watching the plays of their teammates — the same players they helped during the weeks of practice perfect their skills. They watched the players who would get all of the accolades at the end of the games, the players all of the cheerleaders wanted to date, the players who every parent wanted to get a picture of their son with because one day that player “is going to be somebody.”

In his junior year, our son came to us with the thought of quitting football, and we were dumbfounded. We said, “Son, this sport is bigger than you. It is bigger than the score, bigger than the wins, bigger than the trophies. The sport and the coaches are teaching you so much more than how to be an athlete. You are learning life skills that you will carry with you for the rest of your days.”

We left it up to him and he decided to stay.

Now, fast forward two years. Our son has since graduated from high school and is planning his life. High school football is still in all of our minds because we were and always will be part of that family.

In June of this year, we packed our football playing son up and sent him to Air Force basic training. We put him on a plane knowing we would have no access to him for 8½ long weeks aside from writing him letters. It sucked. We had no idea what was ahead for him. We were not going to be there to watch him, to take care of him, to scream at an instructor when he was screaming at our son.

How would we survive? The only way was to write letters and give him encouragement. These letters encouraged us probably more than him. In one letter I wrote, “If you can get through four years of Maryville High School football, you can get through this!”

How did I know? Because as a football parent, you watch intently at every single thing your child goes through with their coaches. The coaches are like their military instructors. They are doing more than just coaching a sport. They are teaching teamwork, endurance, strength, mind over matter, problem-solving, how to be a good winner and a good loser, how to stand up for what is right, how to play fair — they are teaching our sons life skills.

Our son graduated earlier this month from Air Force basic training. Of course, we were there, in the stands cheering him on just like the many nights we cheered him on as he stood on the sidelines during high school football season.

So many great memories flooded our minds but this time, it was different. When we were finally able to meet and speak to the men he came to know as his new teammates, we learned they were so impressed with his perseverance and they let us know! He was voted “most positive” in his flight. He earned honor graduate. Less than 10% of the nearly 900 graduates earned this distinction.

One of his military teammates said he thought about quitting and our son encouraged him to stay … and the young man did! In a conversation after his basic military training was complete, our son said, “Mom, I am so glad I played football at Maryville High School. I really think it helped me with basic.”

So to all you parents who have high school football sons, and all of you future parents who are grooming your sons to one day play high school football, I am writing this letter to you. This letter is to remind you there is life after high school football. A much bigger life. That life is bigger than your son, it is bigger than the win, it is bigger than the championship trophy, and it is definitely bigger than me or you. If you will let them, the coaches can help you mold your child into a man.

Jackie S. Mills is a Maryville Realtor.

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