Weekly Column: Our own little Rudy Ruettiger

©Stephenie Freeman

I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: I am not an athletic person. What an understatement. I lasted one day in soccer, dropped out of gymnastics because I didn’t want to do cartwheel races, and the only time I ever made it on base in softball was when the ball actually hit me.

The Golfer is quite the different story, having played sports his entire life and even providing for our family through a career in athletics. The night after finding out that we were having a boy, the Golfer and I laid in bed, romantically discussing our future being filled with soccer practice, football games, and yes, golf lessons. Genetically, we knew the little guy had a 50/50 chance of becoming an athlete. I saw the glass half full. The Golfer tired hard not to think about the empty portion of the glass.

The Cheese started flag football practice last week. He’s a skinny little thing; his glasses slipping down his sweaty nose, the flags around his waist cinched tight. He’s what some might call “scrappy”, eager and ready, at times even growling at the teammate he’s about to come up against. Sometimes the smallest athletes are the hungriest.

My son simply wants to play football. When I pull into the practice field parking lot, the car barely comes to a full and complete stop before he’s hopping out and running full-speed toward the field. During water breaks, he runs off the field with a smile, quickly drinking his Gatorade clumsily through his mouthpiece before anxiously running back out. Every coach wants a kid like mine on his team.

Except for the fact that he has trouble catching the ball during five yard turn around drills and throws more of a wobble than a spiral. He usually fumbles the ball when it’s pitched his direction and his eyes have welled up with tears more than once.

But he’s a fast little thing, his little body and quick feet definite benefits to his team. Give him the ball and if he doesn’t drop it, he’ll run with his whole heart until he makes it into the end zone. He might not always grab that flag, but it’s certainly not from a lack of trying.

He wants it and I am the parent on the sideline wanting it for him. I cheer for the hits and the misses, holding my breath during both. It’s hard to watch his disappointment after missing a flag. It’s hard to watch as my son is overlooked for key positions, always being used as filler. It’s hard to watch other kids with more athletic style and talent.

But those things are hard on me, not him. All he cares about is being a part of the team. He’s always out there paying attention to every word the coach says, always trying his hardest, always giving it all he’s got regardless of his athletic inheritance…or lack thereof.

Then the other night while the Golfer was out of town, the Cheese asked me something.

“Mom? Will you come outside and do five yard turnarounds with me?”

My poor, sweet child had no idea what he was asking of me. Against my better judgment, I headed outside with my son. I had watched this drill at every single practice and I knew that all I had to do was throw the ball to my son when he turned around after running about five yards. Easy.

After three failed attempts (each my fault) and one Nerf ball to the face, the Cheese started to realize that asking Mom to help him practice wasn’t a very good idea.

“Mom, I’m a lot better at football than you are!”

And that, my son, is quite an understatement.

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