When the son steps off Dad’s path
I suppose it’s a father’s conceit to want to see his son follow his sports track in high school. In my case, it was basketball.
Not that I was anything great – a third guard-sometimes starter brought in as Energizer Bunny or when the defense needed a boost. I went no farther than high school, though gym rats at summer pickup games told me I could walk on and play at the same small college level some of them did. But I flew off to Hawaii a week out of high school and took up sailing and surfing.
The boy, naturally, played organized ball from first grade on. The father saw a bigger, longer version of himself. The kid played hard; didn’t mind setting picks, boxing out, passing to the stars; and my word he stepped up on defense.
I figured the generational Rogers high school athletic blossoming had a fair chance of happening for him. You know, some kids excell before puberty and then fade, and some scrubs make quantum leaps after their voice deepens. Sportswise, I leapfrogged in high school. Maybe he would, too.
Analyzing all this, I saw myself at that age as the better shooter and ballhandler, and him as stronger fundamentally, at least as much of a hustler and as serious about the defensive side of the game. Kids like that get playing time even over more gifted athletes.
But a funny thing happened to this dad’s best laid plans. Turned out, the kid had his own path in mind. Instead of the gym, it’s a race course. This time of year, it’s cross country. Soon enough, Nordic skiing will follow. And then track.
All those years of careful cultivation, coaching the finer points, talking up the game, analyzing strengths and weaknesses and … cross country, Nordic, track? I mean, where did I go wrong?
Have to say the kid, a sophomore, already is a far better distance runner than I ever was at basketball. I remember working out with the cross country team to help get in shape for basketball, and they all smoked me. He would have smoked me, too.
Nearly 500 high school students in Eagle County participate in one prep sport or another, each with proud parents and I imagine a fair number of moms and dads hoping their progeny will share similar athletic experiences as they had in these golden years.
It’s really the teamwork, going after goals, disciplined regimens and comaradarie that count. You just don’t quite get these elements from the classroom or holding down after-school jobs. At least not with the same intensity. Good old-fashioned pain has a role here, too, I suspect. Nudging at and then pushing through one’s previous conception of limits might be the greatest gift of sports.
Stardom is beside the point, as today’s legends will learn soon enough. Twenty years from now, the bench warmer whose only hits came in practice may take as much or more from the experience as the scholarship talent. Which sport doesn’t matter so much as having a sport.
Still, all that aside, I wanted my kid to have all these experiences through basketball. So word he was choosing a different direction came as a blow. What do you mean you aren’t going out for basketball? I thought this was settled, oh, about the time the ultrasound showed the tell-tale sign that our firstborn would be a son.
But then, I’m not sure my father has ever so much as dribbled a basketball. After the divorce, my sister and I lived with Mom in Southern California, and I came to basketball on my own. So I had a late start at tutelege in my father’s game.
His big lifelong sport is sailboat racing, which he was great at when he competed, and I can say I liked it OK. As for the water sports, though, I found I had much more passion for surfing. Then I committed a minor sin by heading to the mountains, fighting fire and eventually living whole states away from any ocean.
I’m sure all that independence was a bit of a blow to my dad’s best laid plans. I imagine he still can’t quite believe how his son could turn his back on the ocean, his passion.
But you know, I had my own life to live.
And so I see that my own kid is a lot like his old man. Just a little quicker.
Managing Editor Don Rogers can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 600, or firstname.lastname@example.org
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