If you are a coach, player or fan, there is an emptiness that comes with the end of your sport's season.
Last Friday night I was again reminded of that as our football season came to an end. While I am no longer coaching, I was still hit by a feeling of emptiness as I circulated among the 24 Bulldogs who played their last football game for Thomson High.
Most of these kids I had coached for the three previous years and the coaches are either old friends, whom I worked with for years, or new friends that I've gotten to know in the past several months. It's an emotional time for all involved as a chapter in life comes to an abrupt, and in this case, an unexpected end, and we have to deal with the changes.
Unless you win a state championship, like we were fortunate enough to do three times in my career, you have to deal with a lot of "might have beens." I always said that the most empty I ever felt was the first day I came home from school and didn't have practice. Monday, 40 of the 80 teams, their players and coaches who made the Georgia High School football playoffs had to make that adjustment. As I reflected the morning after the game, I thought about certain times in my life and a season's end. I thought about Nov. 15, 1974. That was my last football game as a player. We fell behind 27-0 at the end of the first quarter and trailed 27-6 at the half, only to storm back to within 27-22. Then, late in the game a run inside the 5-yard line by our quarterback, P.D. Adams, was called back for a holding penalty that had nothing to do with the success of the play. As I trailed the play, I tried to yell to my teammate just ahead of me to not try to block the man he got tangled up with, but he was called for the foul and the play was called back. Being of limited talent as a player, I knew that it would be my last game as we fell to Swainsboro. I still remember that I was inconsolable in my grief, knowing that nine years as a player had ended.
Last season was an emotional one for a different reason. I knew that coach Luther Welsh was retiring and I was leaving the game along with him. On Nov. 12, 2010, I walked off the THS field with him for the last time. We triumphed in round one of the playoffs over Worth County, 21-19, but it was a bittersweet victory. I have displayed prominently in my home a gift from Jim Wallace. It's a photograph of coach and I leaving the Thomson High field together for the last time. Then, the next week, against Peach County we left the field together in defeat and had to say goodbye to a good group of seniors, which is always hard.
Friday was an emotional time for Bulldogs and their fans as well. A season that looked so promising came to an abrupt end at the hands of a talented and athletic team from Henry County. As I circulated among the players and their parents, coaches and their wives, I found myself trying to offer words of comfort and encouragement. The disappointment and emotion was obvious because, especially for the seniors, they knew that they would never pass this way again. For me, the morning after was always worse because my season-long Saturday routine, other than washing the uniforms, was different.
Monday, after school, was even worse as I would head home and think about what I had been doing only one week earlier.
As the days pass and the wounds and disappointment heal, hopefully, the memories of good times and good friends will take their place. We have begun a new era this year in Thomson High football and look forward to a completely renovated Brickyard for next season.
Thanks, coaches and players, for your efforts on our behalf this season. Go Dogs!