Saturday, September 18, 2010

Those glorious beatings

My mom kept me from playing organized football until my senior year of high school.  As a nurse, she had witnessed too many injuries incurred on the field of play to allow her only child anywhere near helmet and pads.  So it was a shock by all accounts when she finally turned me loose.

Perhaps dear ol' mom assumed the impact of full-contact violence with dozens of other guys -- the majority of whom were larger, stronger, tougher, meaner and more experienced than I -- would rid me of this dastardly football bug that had plagued me since first grade.  In a somewhat ironic twist, it was a non-football related injury to my inner right thigh from the year before that gave me reason enough to quit after six weeks of sustaining one brutal pounding after another.

Sensing that I would regret forgoing my last opportunity to play, especially by relying upon a wound that was stitched up and healed not long after a doctor removed three small pieces of metal from my leg (it's a long story), I returned to the team on my own fruition about a month later to give it one final go.  Dear ol' mom was less than thrilled.

In short, I was awful.  But the team itself is another story.  Widely known for both a stellar running game and a punishing defense that held four opponents scoreless while limiting four others to single-digit tallies, the 1993 Evangelical Christian School Eagles were victorious in 10 of 12 games and finished the season in Gibson County with a tough loss at Milan High School (about 90 minutes from Memphis) in the playoff quarterfinals.

Milan, for the record, made it to the state championship game a couple of weeks later.  They lost to Sweetwater, 10-6.

The chief architect of the Eagles' gridiron success over the past several decades is the recently departed Jim Heinz, who led ECS to four state championships during his tenure {'83, '99, '00, '05}, compiling a 219-88 record in 27 seasons as head coach ('78-'90, '96-'09) and finished fifth all-time in wins for coaches in Shelby County.  In a testament to his leadership and versatility, he also guided the Eagles to three state titles in baseball {'89, '96, '98}.

Coach Heinz served as an assistant during the season that I played.  He was my U.S. government teacher as well.  In short, his impact at Evangelical Christian School cannot be overstated.  Briarcrest probably doesn't deserve him.

By the way, I ended up a letterman along with the rest of the seniors from the '93 squad -- not because of my statistics, because I basically had none, but because I persevered to the end.  Still the overall experience has always felt rather incomplete.  Heck, I'm not even in the team picture.  An underclassman named Jeff, who quit despite his considerable athletic prowess, is shown wearing the #80 jersey that I ultimately inherited.

Although a picture taken of me in full uniform the day after the loss at Milan (in which I did not play) is the only evidence that I was on the team at all, I wore the cardinal and white proudly nevertheless.  Yet no matter how imperfect the experience may have been, at the very least I can say that regret has no place in my trip down memory lane.

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