Winning isn’t everything, but it sure is nice
Special to Stars and Stripes November 3, 2023
The opponent’s stadium lights blazed sizzling white on that balmy fall Florida Friday night. Our son — a sophomore at his new high school since our permanent change of station move from Germany over the summer — was the second string center on the visiting football team. The chance of him seeing any play time was only slightly better than the odds of me winning the Powerball.
And I never buy lottery tickets.
Coming into the game, the opponent was ranked 14th in the state and 117th nationally. They hadn’t lost yet. Their state-of-the-art, 15-acre athletic complex looked like the high school football Taj Mahal. Emblazoned across their press box, which was so big we suspected it had a cocktail bar in it, were banners reading “District Champions,” “State Playoffs” and “Regional Champs.” It was the kind of place that Division 1 college recruiters have on their travel itineraries.
Our high school, on the other hand, was a public magnet on nine dilapidated acres in the middle of the worst inner-city neighborhood in Jacksonville. Due to the great emphasis placed on advanced academics, funding for athletics was minimal. None of the school’s graduates were headed for the pros, unless by “professional” one means doctor, lawyer, architect or engineer.
Thanks to the lack of funding, the football team was barely able to afford jerseys. The field was a lumpy crabgrass plot in the center of an ancient six-lane running track that had been deemed unsafe for competitive use. The cross country and track teams were bussed to other school’s facilities for practices and meets. On the home team side of the field sat aging bleacher seating, a rudimentary press box with a cracked speaker system and a standalone concessions shack with two working outlets. The visiting team’s fans were relegated to dented bleachers pushed up against a chain-link fence.
Our team’s only practice equipment, one sled and one chute, had long been abandoned as unsafe, and stood corroding in a corner with tall weeds growing around and through their rusted edges. A weathered scoreboard overlooked it all, rendered useless by the inoperability of one-third of its bulbs.
My husband and I, wearing our Stanton Blue Devils T-shirts, ogled the opposing team’s fancy digital scoreboard as we found our stadium seats before kickoff. With an 0-5 football team comprised of math geeks, computer nerds, avid readers and Eagle scouts, we knew they were about to get creamed.
Our opponents scored two touchdowns in the first four minutes of the game, and by the half, we were losing 7 to 50. In the second half, they put in their second stringers, giving us a bit of respite from the slaughter.
In the fourth quarter, Francis and I noticed a familiar number out on the field. Was that our son? I knocked my boiled peanuts over jumping to my feet, and my husband fumbled for his camera. We couldn’t believe our eyes, and wondered if our son might actually be a part of a miracle comeback play.
Just then, we saw the ball skim across the turf as the players scrambled. Bad snap. Fumble. Turnover.
Please Lord, make it stop.
Our son took his seat back on the bench, and the Blue Devils lost the game 64 to 7.
Many famous sports figures throughout history have been quoted on the character-building aspects of losing. “Winning isn’t everything ...” they’ve said. “It’s not whether you win or lose ...” they’ve said. “When at first you don’t succeed ...” they’ve said.
The first time a team loses, it was just a fluke. The second time they lose, they vow to learn from it. The third time, they say it only makes them stronger. But after that, they’re just bitter. Really, really bitter.
The Blue Devils never won a game that football season. Or the next. Consistently losing didn’t teach our son any valuable life lessons. But he did learn that there’s a silver lining to being a military brat: No matter how bad life gets, it’s only temporary. Before our son’s senior year, we moved again, this time to Rhode Island, where our son’s football team won a few games.
Winning wasn’t everything, and it wasn’t the only thing. But it sure was nice.
Read more at themeatandpotatoesoflife.com and in Lisa’s book, “The Meat and Potatoes of Life: My True Lit Com.” Email: firstname.lastname@example.org