Thursday, November 10, 2005

Autumn begins...

James Wright said it best in his poem Autumn Begins in Martin's Ferry Ohio :

"In the Shreve high football stadium,
I think of the Polacks nursing long beers in Tiltonsville,
And gray faces of Negroes in the blast furnace at Benwood,
And the ruptured night watchman of Wheeling Steel,
Dreaming of heroes.

All the proud fathers are ashamed to go home.
Their women cluck like starved pullets,
Dying for love.

Therefore, their sons grow suicidally beautiful,
At the beginning of October,
And gallop terribly against each other's bodies."

I've never read a more meaningful poem about football, not that I've ever read any poem about football. In the context of coal and steel country, one can get a true idea about the therapeutic value for those whose days of 'suicidal' beauty have passed them by. The kids don't know any better; it's a competition and kids love to compete. Like the Friday Night Lights motif of Odessa versus Permian, where sons of the bosses played for one city and the sons of the workers played for the other, something culturally beneficial can be achieved through sport.

Sport transcends the ages. Pushing one's body to achieve things ordinary people only dream of accomplishing is a tribute to youth and a tribute to the magnificence of the human body. Endurance is the first accomplishment. Throw in 11 guys who want to knock you flat on the ground every play and one hell of a moment is reached in the life of the young student-athlete. It's really easy in July, when pre-season work is at its height to simply quit putting one's body through hell. It's certainly easy in August on the first day of full pads and everyone is competing to be the first to knock someone on their ass, the temperatures are hot and humid and ideas of air-conditioning and TV viewing on the couch calls like a siren: Give it up!

This time of year as the AR playoffs begin tomorrow is a time to remember the kids who've played the game. Kids who have served in our armed forces and paid with their lives have played the game. Many have played the game including great statesmen, line workers in factories, managers at local discount stores, doctors, lawyers, engineers, pipe-fitters, heavy-equipment operators, convenience-store clerks, the list is endless. The game has been revived for 2005 as it has for over a hundred years of intermural play. Etching the names of participants on the epitaph of our cultural heritage, each season's revival lends to the excitement of discovering the next great athlete or the next great competitor who doesn't know the meaning of the word 'lose'.

Quitting is not an option for the young men possessed of pride of accomplishment. One doesn't need to be a superlative athlete to be a success on the gridiron. Desire and the courage to overcome the requisite nagging aches, pain, and injuries are sufficient for many. I've gained respect for a number of kids who lacked the physical ability to be on the field for very long during a game, but have practiced every day and have worked hard to help teammates get better and have survived an entire season without quitting. A lot of pride is discovered within the hearts of those kinds of kids and they know the meaning of James Wright's timeless description of the game. Anyone who has buckled a chinstrap and galloped terribly into another body knows the meaning of the seemingly meaningless activity.

Wish all the kids well if you're destined to watch a high school game this weekend in AR. They deserve the proud moment and may never forget the compliment.


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