After my mother’s death, life settled down for me to a quiet routine of work, raising kids and mowing the lawn, punctuated by occasional chess tournaments. The children were all involved in a variety of sports, the two girls as well as Josh, and I spent my time at home attending a variety of meetings and sporting events. I thoroughly enjoyed the sporting events because they were a chance to watch kids play. My girls especially enjoyed playing softball, alas, without much success; but they remained undeterred. They were enthusiastic and just enjoyed playing the game.
My son, Josh, however, was a different story. He was a natural athlete. I had been his manager during his Little League period, and had seen him in action. He was impressive. Baseball was not his only sport. For a while, on Saturday mornings, he played street hockey, and that was fun to watch. Then for a couple of years he was involved in Biddy Basketball, at which he was terrible. He enjoyed the game but couldn’t score, no matter what. He was also what is sometimes euphemistically described as a very “physical player,” which resulted in ejection from the games for excessive fouls. It was almost embarrassing, but he was enjoying himself.
The game at which he excelled was football. In Ridgewood, little boys who wanted to play football had to join the Jets; so he did that. The little boys looked liked small extra terrestrials in their uniforms and big helmets. Later, the following year (or the year after) he became a Rocket. And then there were a couple of years on the middle school team, on which he played both offense and defense. The highpoint of the football program was the high school football team. Josh played noseguard, a position for which he was much too small, but he played it well, although he suffered at times when matched against bigger players who would go on to become professionals. On offense, he was a marvelous receiving tight end. I don’t think I ever saw him drop a pass, although we also spent parts of many Saturday afternoons in the Valley Hospital Emergency Room.
Every Saturday afternoon, my neighbor from across the street and I would go watch the football game, whether at home or away. This neighbor loved high school sports, particularly track and field events. His son became one of the outstanding track athletes in New Jersey. His family also hosted one of those magical long distance runners from Kenya for a couple of years. Anyway, my buddy from across the street and I never missed a game. Oddly enough I don’t remember it ever raining on a Saturday. I felt I was participating in a wonderful rite taking place on the greenest grass, watching the oversized boys in the protective gear under their maroon uniforms. Theirwhite helmets turned them into gladiators, and transformed them into temporary heroes for an afternoon. It was a wonderful spectacle.
This is all somewhat maudlin. With what is known about the dangers of contact sports today, I would not, should not have encouraged this passion for football. But at the time, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it. Oddly enough, when it came time to apply for college, it wasn’t his football that helped. It was the way Josh threw the javelin in the off season that secured him a spot on the Franklin and Marshall College track and field team.