In Praise of Football, Coaches and All Gridiron Heroes

Kenny Chesney’s song (and video) “Boys of Fall” describes the allure of football and why the game is woven so deeply into the fabric of American culture:

Well it’s turn to face the stars and stripes
It’s fighting back them butterflies
It’s call it in the air, alright
Yes sir, we want the ball
And it’s knocking heads and talking trash
It’s slinging mud and dirt and grass
It’s I got your number, I got your back
When your back’s against the wall
You mess with one man, you got us all
The boys of fall

I was never among the boys of fall (being a girl, after all!) but I do love the game and am a huge football fan. I like throwing spirals or booting punts with friends and family when I have the chance, and I enjoy watching football at all levels, especially when Bears are involved (the Academy Bears, of course, but also my favorite college team, the Baylor Bears, who did an amazing job in their bowl game this year). I can’t wait to see the CFP national championship game between Clemson and Alabama on Jan. 11 and am already excited about the prospect of Super Bowl 50 on Feb. 7 (as well as all the playoff games in between).

SMA Bears Win State Football Title

Sadly, I was not able to see our own SMA Bears win the TCAL state championship in Houston over the Thanksgiving holidays, but I was thrilled by their accomplishment. It was the first state football title for the Academy in 60 years and many of our young men were awarded All-State recognition. Those named to the First Team, All-State were Kyle Robbins, Christian Wilson, Brendan Christensen, Walker Powers, Hank Shirley, Miracle Okafor-Paul, Tanner McGill and Will Platt. Several others were tagged for Second-Team and Honorable Mention honors.

What made the win even more satisfying was knowing that our student athletes had been mentored by some wonderful Christian coaches. One parent shared this about his son’s championship game and season:

One of the most impressive parts of the night, was after the game when the two teams met at the center of the football field. The teams formed a circle, and the coaches organized a quick ad hoc acknowledgement celebration of true sportsmanship amongst the players. Very impressive coaching leadership by both teams. Throughout the season, the game of football and the coaching staff trained our sons to be men. Work hard, play as a team, share the right attitude and do the next right thing.

My rebellious teenager, the one who walked onto the football field last year, is not the same young man who walked off the field on Saturday night. I attribute this to the spirit of SMA and the football coaching staff. I will always be grateful to both for the result I am seeing in my son.

Another parent shared these thoughts:

After a rough season last year and the loss of several quality players, we all knew that a 100% effort would be necessary in order for our Bears to compete in the 2015 season. Not only did the Bears compete, they took it to the next level . . . and won it all! The year started that hot August morning with gym time, field time, more sweat, running, a little whimpering and lots of sore muscles. Yet they were there the next morning for more!

Staying late was the norm. Enthusiasm steadily rose. The group of boys started to form into a “Team” of young men. Even in the losses, the Bears performed, improved, performed, and improved even more. It was an awesome experience to witness, and I am truly feel proud of the entire team.

But, let’s give credit where credit is due. The coaches went well above the call of duty for this Title! They were drafting this season even before there was a season. They were there before, during, and after school. They stayed on the boys about their scholastic responsibilities well above the football program. They were watching films, changing plays, moving players before the first snap of the first game. They had to be teachers, counselors, coaches, cheerleaders, bus drivers, and wore countless other hats . . . and all for the same dime!

Not one of them were obligated to go beyond their contract. They wanted to, and did it with style with incredible integrity. Not to take one ounce of credit away from our young men, but the true heroes in this season are our coaches!

Yet another parent had this to say:

I am extremely proud of our kids for all they have accomplished this year. We set a goal, worked hard, bought in to the plan, overcame all sorts of obstacles, and a dream was fulfilled. More important than just winning games, I hope the ‘life lessons’ our coaches talk about daily will stay with these young men as they continue their path to a successful life. Thank you, coaches, for rearranging your holidays so the boys could have this opportunity to create great memories that will last a lifetime.

What awesome tributes to our coaching staff and to the game of football itself!

Football Produces Gridiron Heroes

Of course, there is another side to the game—a more frightening side that threatens to emerge whenever the whistle blows and the opening kickoff ensues. Injuries, sometime catastrophic ones, can and do occur.

Over the Christmas break, I had a chance to watch the Gridiron Heroes movie, “The Hill Chris Climbed,” which details the amazing story of Chris and Eddie Canales (both SMA graduates) and their football experience. Chris was a senior at SMA in 2001 when he suffered a devastating spinal cord injury during his last regular season game on the Academy field. In the weeks and months that followed, Chris faced life-threatening setbacks, rehabilitation, episodes of depression and the overwhelming adjustment to living as a quadriplegic.

Through it all, however, Chris never lost his love for the game of football. A year after his own accident, he was in the stands during a 3A State Championship football game when another young athlete suffered a similar spinal cord injury. Realizing how much they could offer this athlete and his family, Chris and Eddie showed up to give support and advice, and the concept for Gridiron Heroes was born. Officially formed in 2003, the Gridiron Heroes Spinal Cord Injury Foundation is dedicated to providing immediate, as well as long term resources and support to individuals sustaining catastrophic spinal cord injury through activities associated with high school football.

Learn more about Chris’s story and where you can view the excellent film on the Gridiron Heroes website.

All profits from the film benefit Gridiron Heroes and will help Chris and Eddie continue their ministry to injured athletes and their families . . . and to continue to promote, despite its darker side, a game so many of us love.

–By Shelley Henry, SMA director of admissions and communications