I’m sitting at home, listening to our local Minutemen take on the Preston County Hawks about two hours away. The radio announcers, Joey and Jeff, two classroom teachers with a great sense of humor and complete understanding of the game, are loud and giddy as they announce every Friday night high school game with pride and gusto.
Riley was up to punt the ball away.
“Awh, the snap is bad. The ball is on the ground. It bounces. It bounces not once but twice before Gunter scoops it it up, tucks it tight, and just doesn’t look back.”
“Gunter is at the 40!”
“Jeff, I just don’t think they this team knew Riley Gunter could run!”
“And now he’s at the 20. I don’t think we knew he could run.”
“There’s no one left who can catch him. He’s going to take it all the way!”
“He did! Gunter, the kicker, just got the Minutemen a touchdown!”
“I think that was a run of 90 yards total, Joey. 90 yards!”
“And now he’s going back out to kick the extra point.”
Those two kind-hearted men must of at-a-boy-ed my son for a last ten minutes.
My cell phone blew up with texts from friends at the game who actually got to witness this unexpected act.
“You’ll never believe what Riley did!”
“Holy crap! Riley just got a touchdown!”
I laughed and I cried. The announcers went on and on about Riley’s athleticism, witnessed in four different sports at LCHS. He’d kicked football for the Minutemen for just three seasons, but had played soccer since he was a tiny three-year-old with a blonde bowl cut.
I appreciate the fact that our small-town radio station airs every high school football game live, so even when I was immobile and unable to attend, I could listen to these two goofballs share the night with me. I love the way our little town adores football. We all know each other here, and when something unexpected like this happens, most of the moms in that crowd knew #1’s mom was stuck at home because of Chronic Lyme. They know how hard it is for me to miss his games, especially with these unforgettable moments. These moms clap and cheer for my boy a little harder and louder than others to make up for my absence. His absent mom reminds them to be grateful everyday for their own health.
In the little community of Weston, we are a team. Our joys and our sorrows are collective. As I cried that night, tears of pride for my son and tears of selfishness for myself, I knew there were other moms who were praying for me. I could feel them lifting me up every single Friday night. We are connected.
Two months later, John and I attend Riley’s end-of-the-season football banquet, a tradition that I actually enjoy. I’d missed the one the year before because of illness, and I was insistent on being there for his final one.
It had been a rough day –knee pain, fatigue, and chest tightness. But nothing could’ve prepared me for the biggest problem –the sheer volume. In an old banquet hall at Jackson’s Mill, loud voices echoed, making the around 200 in attendance sound more like 1,000. The tinkling sound of spoons as people stirred sugar into their tea. The smell of freshly baked rolls, which I couldn’t eat. Everyone looking at me, wanting to hug me or shake my hand. I couldn’t take it.
I spent most of the dinner outside on the beautiful front porch. My heart palpitations and shortness of breath subsided the longer I remained recluse from the group. While curled up in an old white rocking chair, I sipped my ice water and listened as the speakers presented. Thank God for those speakers in the ceiling of that porch. I could enjoy Riley’s moment without collapsing from a panic attack caused by sensory overload.
It was, or at least I thought it was, his last big moment in football. The coach, an intelligent, witty man with a special way with teenagers, bragged and joked about Riley’s “holy crap!” touchdown, his one tackle, and his consecutive PAT’s and field goals. Riley beamed with pride, and I, of course, had tears in my eyes. Riley was awarded LC Special Teams Player of the Year as well as All-State honors. For a kid who originally acknowledged his hatred of football, he sure had a natural talent for it.
Then came the messages, emails and calls from colleges, interested in Riley coming to kick for them. I left it all to him. It was his choice, and ironically, he wound up selecting the school closest to home. He, like most kids, couldn’t wait to “get out of here” to strike out on his own in a far away land. But then when the time came, being able to bring laundry home to mom seemed pretty darn appealing.
On National Signing Day, my baby boy officially signed his Letter of Intent with Glenville State College, a DII school about one hour from our home and the alma mater for me and his father. After visiting the school a couple weeks ago, he decided it felt like the right fit for him, and his kicking opportunities looked pretty solid. Apparently, he was right.
He was offered a scholarship, and we accepted. More than anything, I am relieved that he will part of something in college. He won’t slip through the cracks because his coaches won’t allow it. He will attend all the study halls, tutorings, classes, meals, weightlifting, and practices as laid out for his team. I love that. He needs discipline and motivation, and I can’t go to college to do that for him.
I also look at this opportunity a little differently than Riley.
Lyme disease stole so much of my life and my time with my children. I went from a mom who never missed a game to a woman who resorted to listening in on the radio when able or hearing snippets of soccer highlights when Riley returned home. With each athletic event I missed, I cried and I got angry.
Yes, angry. I didn’t…and still don’t…understand why God would give me these amazing children, then make me too sick to play an active role in their lives. If I’ve learned anything over the last 16 painful months, it’s that life rarely goes as planned. Riley played year-round soccer for 15 years of his life, then chose to focus on kicking a football. I intended to watch every one of my kid’s games in high school, hoping but never truly believing he’d make it to the collegiate level. I never expected to become chronically ill and miss so much of his life.
So, for me, Riley signing to play football at Glenville State feels like God’s way of making up for lost seasons. I can’t wait to watch my baby boy kickoff at his first collegiate game. How many moms get to say that?? Our plan isn’t as creative as God’s. That’s for sure.
And the best part? As Minutemen, we wear blue and grey, so my closet is already well stocked for Glenville State Pioneer blue.
I would like to personally thank all those who made this possible:
- Coach Hunter McWhorter for influencing Riley to visit GSC and for coaching him on and off the field
- Coaches Eddie Vincent and Dustin Cogar, for absolutely everything
- His teammates for putting up with him and pushing him to become more
- His sisters for collecting football after football when he practiced
- All of soccer coaches because those kicking skills got him here, too
- His teachers…..for putting up with him every day when he’d rather be on a field than in a classroom
- And anyone I may have forgotten. Those who fed him, transported him, encouraged him….THANK YOU for shaping his future!!