Friends and Football

Proverbs 18:24 The Message    
 Friends come and friends go, but a true friend sticks by you like family.

The first time I met the Devines we were in the receiving line at my father in law’s funeral.  As they were approaching The Coach turned to me and said how lucky we were to get David to come to Shelby.  I had heard about his talent, and intelligence as a coach.  The Coach admired him, and I could tell by his tone that he was excited to get to work with David.  It was such a difficult time for The Coach.  I was happy to see him with something positive to look forward to.  David was coming from Burns, and had been expected to be the next head coach in line when through a turn of interesting events he was overlooked, and a different coach was hired instead.  We got lucky, or in looking back it was cosmic to say the least, and the creator of the universe was at work doing things we could never have orchestrated on our own.

For seven seasons they were family to us.  There are those people who come into your life just when you need them.   That first season together was a season of healing and new opportunities for us all.  Kim and I had babies two months apart.  We took beach vacations every summer.  We grew very close over the years watching our children grow, and giving each other support when The Coaches were busy with their business on the field.  She understood me.   When you spend time with someone for weeks at a time, it can be maddening if you don’t get along with them.  I got along with Kim, and she could put up with me, which is saying something.  I am what you might call “quirky”.  I  have the mind of a creative person which can be flighty and reactive, and sometimes I tend to be a little feisty.   I admired her ability to do nearly anything, even clean chicken houses in 110 degrees in summer.  She is kind, funny, and genuine.  She may be one of the toughest women I have ever known, and for sure she made me a better person through our friendship.

We made great life memories together.  We celebrated victories, and prayed each other through hard times.  I believe the most profound relationships are not just built on conversations or similar opinions, they are built on experiences.  When you experience life and its everyday events with someone, you develop bonds of trust and levels of understanding that transcend the limits of the world.  You develop inside jokes where a moment can be brought back to mind with a simple word or phrase.  We  flowed like a river, and we didn’t have to struggle to get along, because it just happened.   This was the way we were.   Even when the two coaches would “have words”, they were like brothers and any hard feelings were soon forgotten.  They had a common admiration and respect for one another.   The Coaches are both smart, but in their own ways.  Lance is charismatic, and is a maverick of sorts on the playing field.  David is intensely strategic and methodical.  Their personalities and coaching styles complimented each other to create such a dynamic team that they pulled off 3 state championships in a row.

Last year after the 2015 State Championship we celebrated with friends and coaches at our home.  In our kitchen we talked to the Devines, and we knew at that time that Burns would probably offer David the head coaching position.  I remember him being incredibly humble, like he usually is, and I told him they would be crazy not to offer him the job.  We hugged him and Kim.  I think at that very moment I knew that our seasons together were ending.  I felt different after that night.  I emotionally protect myself at times by means of withdrawing.  I think I began to pull away, so it wouldn’t hurt so much when they inevitably had to go.

David was offered the job, and accepted the call to lead the Bulldogs.  He left by spring to go back to Burns.  We understood.  He had to go.  It was his  destiny.  He had to return home to rebuild, and lead his team to victory.  In the months that followed I didn’t talk to Kim very much.  I suppose that we knew it would be best since we would now be living separate lives with our husbands coaching for rival teams, and she would take on her new role as a head coach’s wife.  Coaching is so much more than just a job.  A great coach is a leader who is teaching people to believe in something bigger than themselves to achieve a common goal.  A great coach builds more than a team, they build a community. We knew that Coach Devine was supposed to do this for Burns.   Lance and I prayed for who would take his place.  There were such big shoes to fill.  Coach Hawn has stepped in nicely, bringing his own style and savvy, but the family is different now.

In preparing to go to the game this week, I felt very emotional.   The friends we had spent summer vacations, and almost every weekend with have been gone for half a year.  Even though I have tried to move past it, something has been missing.  A hole has been there that nothing else could fill.  Why does life have to change in these ways?  It must, if we want to grow.  Growing is an essential part of life, but it can be so very painful.   I didn’t let myself cry for so long, but I have been deeply sad because my friends had to move on.  Friday night wasn’t just a game.  It was a pivotal moment in time for The Coaches.  With the giant moon looming on the backdrop of the Burns field, it was orchestrated by a force beyond us.  It was more.  I hugged one of the dearest friends life has ever provided me with, after a game where our husbands had to coach against each other.  It was a place where I never wanted to be, but had to be.

The Devines are coming for dinner soon.  I can’t wait to catch up on the last six months to find out how their new lives have been.  Growing is so hard.  We used to grow together, and now we grow separately.  I can’t wait to see all of the amazing things they will do.  I want to be able to pull for them at every game they play, except the one they play against us.  I never want to see a friend lose.  It is so very hard.  Much harder than people can imagine or know.  I have often compared the last several months to a breakup.  We knew it was time to move on, but it hurts.  We want the very best for them, and want them to be successful because we love them like family, but it pains us to see them with another team.  They have another family now who needs them, but I pray that our friendship will never end even if now we are on different teams.

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