“That ring is crazy, what is it for?!” I hear that comment everywhere we go when The Coach is wearing his state championship ring from last season. It is quite impressive, teetering on the edge of gaudy. Actually it’s ridiculous, but I can’t just tell him that. It’s more like a finger trophy than a ring. The journey to the ring begins long before The Ring is placed on a deserving finger.
Tomorrow is the first official day of practice, but the season starts many months before most people realize. Spring practices are now scheduled two weeks in May. The “real” season in my own mind, I always mark with one particular event that I deem extremely important…..bus washing. Bus washing is a character building event for the team. It’s the very core of where the team attitude begins. The team must wash buses and put in four days of washing time in order to earn their cleats. “Cleats” isn’t code for playing time. Players earn a new pair of cleats by washing the buses.
This makes players take pride in their work. They build a team mentality by realizing that they are working toward something they need, and earning it with hard work. Those buses are dirty. The insides have trash and debris left from the previous school year. The outside is covered with road grime and dead bug guts. The team earns money as they wash each bus, then that money is used for the team to purchase cleats for the season. If the player works they get paid with cleats.
Summer workouts and “7 on 7” tournaments fill the remainder of the sweltering weeks until the true season’s first practice. These are miserably hot days with immense competition against the very best teams in our region. On those long, hot days The Coach tells all of those players to enjoy the heat, and he reminds them that when you play at the state championship in December it will be very cold, and they have that to look forward to.
When our boys were little I would take them through the McDonald’s drive-through right by the high school, and we would sit in the parking lot watching practice while they ate their Happy Meals. This was so they could see their daddy. The Coach wouldn’t be home until after dark, after I had put them to bed and usually gone to bed myself, and he had left for work before they were out of bed that morning. These are long days. The longest in fact, but I have come to realize the pay off.
The hard work that goes into the months after the start of the season falls into a rhythm. Every year is different, just as each championship ring has been different. With the new season’s challenges, personalities, talents of the players, and circumstances off the field varying, it makes every year a fresh start. A lot of pride goes into the work as each day becomes a consistent flow of films, practice, and games. The rhythm of the team is set, wins create momentum, and like a machine the team pushes toward that next championship, and that next crazy- big, bodacious ring.
The Ring is a symbol for many things, it reflects the love, support and commitment of our community. People and businesses are the ones who purchase those rings. For the past four seasons there have been individuals and organizations who donated the money. Some are recognized and some choose to remain anonymous.
When a player, cheerleader, trainer, manager or coach wears that state championship ring they carry with them the reminder of hard work and long days, but they also carry the reminder of how much they have been supported and loved by a community who believes in what they were doing….a community who believes that football means so much more than a game on Friday night. It means teamwork, it means the idea of working together to make something great happen. It’s the belief that we still have in our little town, that no matter where you come from, if you work hard, have a great attitude and believe for something more, that you can, in the end, achieve greatness. Isn’t that what we all want to believe?
I used to get embarrassed when The Coach would be asked about that crazy big ring. One year at the beach a guy in a restaurant asked him what it was for, and The Coach explained it. Obviously the guy had too much to drink, and he didn’t really have a good grasp of what small town, southern football means to a community like ours. I overheard him later laughing and telling his girlfriend that he thought it was pretty ridiculous for a grown man to be wearing a ring that big for coaching a high school sport. I really wanted to say something, but The Coach wouldn’t let me. I’m a little more hot-headed and feisty than he is .
I think that was what got me thinking several years ago about what the ring really means, and all of the hard work, sweat, long days and nights, meetings, injuries, tears, celebrations, practices, laughter, bus washing, ice baths, cheers and chants, sacrifices of players, parents, coaches, families, community, that truly go into That Ring. That Ring is a message to the world, about the love we share and the moments of our lives when we have found hope in one another, and in dreams bigger than ourselves. While The Coach is at his meeting tonight (the first of many this season), I hope that tomorrow brings the start of something that will once again lead to greatness, a road to knowing that we all carry a champion inside, and when we come together we can see wondrous things happen. So here’s to us, the Golden Lion Family, and here’s to a shot at Five Golden Rings.