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If you play the game, carry your own gear

When my grandsons were 5 and 6, they were taken to the ice rink at 5 a.m. every Sunday morning to play hockey; ice time was reserved for them at 6 a.m. It took one hour to get them into all their gear.

Their parents were faithful to make the trip weekly to a rink in Manassas, Va., which was known for producing Olympic skaters.

The family moved to Pagosa when the boys were 10 and 11, knowing the boys’ ice hockey days were over, but understanding Pagosa could give the  boys something better — small town sports.

I remember hearing a coach say to one of the little boys, “If you play the game, you carry your own gear. Don’t let your mother carry your bag.” At 5 and 6 years old, those little boys struggled to carry a 40-inch bag full of hockey gear out of the rink, thinking they were big and strong. I wanted to reach down and help them, but I heard the coach, too. I knew to keep my hands off.

I used to laugh and tell my Sweet Al, “These boys were built to play hockey and football. They weren’t made to put on a little pair of skimpy white shorts, wear a sweater knotted around their shoulders, and carry a tennis racket. They’re built big and tough.”

I’ve become an avid wrestling spectator in the last couple of years. I sit on the bleachers and scream with the other mothers and grandmothers. Pagosa hosted an event for teams from 14 high schools around the area. I read the program handed to me at the door. I happened to see a couple of names I knew. Did you know, Ron Shaw started the wrestling program in 1972 and Gilbert Perea was first state medalist in 1973? There were others I didn’t recognize. They paved the way for our boys in Pagosa.

When our grandson faced one of his opponents, who was 6-6, I wanted to yell, “Run, Creede, run.” But, I didn’t. I’m learning about entering the world of teenagers and how to keep my hands off.

He instructed me, “Grandma, don’t brag on me before the match. I might disappoint everyone.”

“Okay, I won’t, but can I after you win?”

“That will be okay.”

He lost to the big guy. Our grandson was angry with himself.

I consoled him. “Of course, did you see the guy? He was a Goliath. I sent a picture of the two of you to all my Facebook friends. I felt sorry for you. I couldn’t believe his size.” Then, I told him, “You looked like a little boy next to him.”

“Grandma, I’m a man.”

My son-in-law said, “In wrestling it’s not about size. He has to use the guy’s size against him and to his own advantage. Creede is fast. He’s got to learn some more moves, how to deal with bigger guys. He can’t pick up a 280-pound guy and hold him over his head.”

“I understand. I need to learn more about wrestling.”

On Facebook, our grandson posted, “I’m sorry I disappointed everyone with two losses.”

Our daughter encouraged him. “You went up against some tough ones. There is nothing to be ashamed about.”

One of the coaches called our grandson the next day, asking him if he was all right.

I said, “This probably would never happen in a big town. This is what our little town of Pagosa is all about. We have men who care about the boys. They are teaching them how to carry their own gear.”

I’ve been told by my grandson not to mention state until he knows he’s going.

I said, “OK.”

We’ve already got our tickets for state, just in case. There I go again;  I mentioned the word.

I am learning there are things you don’t do when you enter the world of a teenager and his sport.

1. Don’t tell them to smile when they are in the heat of the match.

2. Don’t brag on them before the match. It’s okay to brag afterwards, but not too much.

3. Be as excited over their friends’ matches as you are over theirs.

4. Don’t tell a 16-year-old he is a little boy and you feel sorry for him.

5. And, most important, show up, even if you say everything wrong.

In the wrestling program, I spotted a poem by Ben Peterson titled “What is Wrestling?” He wrote, “Wrestling demands the utmost expression of the best discipline and courage in a man … Wrestling cannot change the nature of man, but it can be used to bring out qualities that are intended to lead, encourage, challenge and entertain others.”

I watched the young men strain every muscle in their bodies as they brought their opponents to the mat. There were wins and losses. They each played the game and dealt with their own gear afterwards.

I’m always mindful of dedicated coaches and those who give up their time to support these young people. Mothers and fathers show up to cheer for their sons. They diligently supply ample food for the coaches, bus drivers, scorekeepers and helpers from other schools. It’s just part of raising good young people with character and being a part of Pagosa.

Final brushstroke: These teenagers are taking me to a new world. If I want to be a part of their world, I have to speak their language. I might not get it right, but they know the language of love. Showing up for them speaks volumes.

Artist’s quote

“Have the courage to say no. Have the courage to face the truth. Do the right thing because it is right. These are the magic keys to living your life with integrity.” — W. Clement Stone.

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This story was posted on January 31, 2013.