It is September and that means in many communities across America, rituals begin around a sport that brings people of all ages and stages together to support their team. You might be scratching your head wondering what football has to do with my work and I assure you the answer is “quite a lot!” You see, much of what I learned about life, as a young girl, came from growing up in a home that valued football. I am even making a film about the life lessons imparted by a teen who loved the game and the impact he had on one football centric town so that these lessons and others can be imparted to many as they were to me.
In our home September meant we were gearing up as a family for Friday nights spent in a number of different New England towns under the stadium lights. My brothers, like other of their high school peers, spent hours practicing while my parents went to numerous Booster Club meetings. My father made it his goal to raise the funds necessary so that my brothers could play under the best quality lights. As a matter of fact as he neared the end- of his life, he made sure he was buried where he could “see the lights” from his cemetery plot right next to the football field.
There are three values that are near and dear to my heart that were espoused Friday evenings, at home-town games: community, teamwork and empowerment. These three vital principles that guide my work today were introduced to me when I was a little girl attending these games to cheer on my older brothers. It is remarkable to me as I reflect back on these experiences that so much of the community comes together for these games. As a child I witnessed with curiosity the passion, tension and emotion both on and off the field. The power of witnessing people huddled in the stands to keep warm as the Vermont cold chilled us and the team members connected in their own huddle, patting each other on the back and empowering each other with each play made a lasting impression. I remember thinking that this shared spirit of cooperation in competition was important. When I watched my brothers shake the hands of the winning teams and as I overheard my parents after every game thank the coach and tell my brothers “good game, ” the importance of these rituals and courtesies remained with me and are now a vital part of my work.It’s no wonder I am producing a film that exemplifies how a group of teens rallying together can change lives during challenging life circumstances. It’s all of those Friday nights watching community members cheer, support and encourage each other both on and off the field that inspires me even today.
Jason DeBusk, a teen whose story is being told in this film taught many of us about life and how to bring our skills, gifts and talents together for a highest purpose- helping someone else. It was he who helped a young, smaller team member discover his talent and teach him “ you take a hit better than anyone I know.” An experience that to most of us would be disempowering gave this young teen a sense of worth and accomplishment that he now, as a successful business person attributes to Jason and football. Jason received a phone call from Oprah telling him the purpose of life is to make a difference, and congratulating him on the fact that he already had. What an accomplishment for one so young.
I never realized it until now but all those years watching my family, their friends and other community members gather beside a field every week, was an example of how to build a compassionate community. Caring, cooperating, cheering, consoling, cajoling, and many other expressions of passion exist at a football game. Who knew? Now I do-those experiences can shape our lives. As all of you head out to the stands this Friday night remember the children who are watching and learning. Who knows what they may create someday?