Our last ride
On our first day of school as a senior class, we walked through our school’s familiar halls on our way to homeroom with a multitude of emotions bouncing around in our heads. We were nervous and excited, but most of all hopeful, hopeful that our senior year would play out perfectly, just like in the movies.
For most students, the two types of success we would hope to encounter during their last year of high school were academic and social. Some of us, however, were chasing a third type of success: athletic. A lot of us have been chasing athletic achievement our whole lives, but this year, it was different. We had officially reached one of the most revered platforms in high school sports: the senior season.
A distant goal
Regardless of the sport, the lengthy road to finally reach this elite spotlight is one shared by the athletes who crave fruition across the nation. Every step of the journey, from our first practice, to purchasing gear for our final season, our mental cameras have been flashing nonstop, capturing the memories we have made with our teammates on and off the field that we will cherish forever.
It is universally known that in varsity athletics everywhere, freshman players are the designated pack mules of the team. In our freshman year, we filled up water coolers and lugged the cumbersome, liquid-filled containers, along with anything else that needed moving from point A to point B, across the athletic campus every day onto the field or bus. Although this role may seem undesirable to many, we played it with constant smiles on our faces because, let’s face it, if we weren’t phenomenal athletes, this was the only way we were able to contribute anything to the varsity team.
From the sidelines, we watched upperclassmen dominate the field through the eyes of bewildered children, dreaming that one day we would be able to compete in this sport at the same level that they were. Throughout our freshman season, we bonded and came together as a class. We built a foundation sturdy enough to support friendships that would grow intertwined with a love for the game over the next four years of our lives.
A sophomore boost
It was during sophomore year that our varsity sports careers really took off. After our first scrimmage, it was clear to us that we were actually capable of competing with the upperclassmen. We fought for every minute of playing time that we could get our hands on. Slowly but surely, we clawed our way onto the field. Our names started appearing in The Citizens’ Voice and the Times Leader articles, which our parents cut out and proudly displayed on the fridge. Complete strangers approached us out of the blue to congratulate us after a solid performance. It was pleasantly surprising to find out that people actually cared about varsity sports.
It wasn’t just our status in the community that rose, however. When we were invited to spend time with the upperclassmen off the field, our status on the team rose as well. After a long practice, we would drag ourselves through the parking lot, cram into the backseats of our new friends’ cars, and drive to a restaurant for pizza or wings to take our minds off the next big game. After the last seconds of our final game fell off the clock, we fell apart inside watching tears stream down the faces of our seniors. We realized that we were never going to be able to play the game we loved with the people we loved even more. This gave us our first insight to what little time we had left playing high school sports.
Ramping it up as juniors
Junior year was like sophomore year on steroids. The god of sports saw what we were doing, liked it, and turned everything we loved about the previous year’s season up to 10. We got more publicity in the community, more chances to show what we were made of on the field, and more good times with our friends. This year, we were officially some of the best players on our team and in the conference. After showing up with a big performance in a important game, we realized that we were difference makers in every game we played. We developed a mutual respect for a few likewise talented opponents on our schedule, and our names gained popularity around the conference due to our success. It was also during our junior year that we started counting how many games we had left. We knew our days were numbered and that we needed to make the absolute most of the time we had left as high school athletes.
Senior year is the capstone
Well, now it’s our senior year. Ninety nine percent of us have officially reached the climax of our athletic careers. We’ve worked our tails off in preparation for the few short months that our season is comprised of and soon it will all be over.
Soon, we’ll wake up early in the morning with butterflies on our last game day, and give our friends and teachers our last predictions of the score, while we anxiously watch the minutes pass on the classroom clock.
We will climb the bus steps, and settle in to our usual seat for our last long road trip. We’ll enter the opposing team’s stadium, find their star player, and stare them down on our last walk into the locker room.
We’ll listen to our last pregame playlist, take off our headphones, and leave the sidelines for our last captain coin toss. We’ll get our last rush of adrenaline after making our last big play, let out one last “LET’S GO,” and slap our teammates’ hands for the last time.
We will look up at the scoreboard, watch the last few seconds of the game clock run out, and see the score of our last game. We’ll feel the familiar sense of pride in our own personal performance and achievements, in our team, which came together as a family to overcome the adversity in our lives by playing the game we love, and in the town that raised us which we represent on the fronts of our jerseys. Then, we will take a deep breath, in and out, and walk off the field for the last time.
Reflections on seasons well spent
As our sporting careers have developed over the past four years, athletics became a huge part of who we are. Without them, we’re going to feel like there are huge gaping holes in each of our identities. Even though the time we have left is coming to a close, we cannot forget everything that playing sports has taught us over the years. We learned about sacrifice for the greater good by playing through pain to give our team the greatest possible opportunities for success.
When we saw massive improvements in our play from season to season, we were taught the value of hard work. By playing in games that came down to the final seconds, we learned how to deal with pressure and stress.
We saw how a common goal can bring together a group of individuals from different backgrounds, creeds, and religions to make them one family. A seasonending injury when everything was going right or a tough loss that sent you home earlier than planned taught us the hard truth that life isn’t fair.
Above all else however, we learned how to pick ourselves up from the ground, dust off our knees, and keep playing the game.
Over the span of our athletic careers, in ways large and small, we have been knocked down a hundred times. A hundred times we picked ourselves up and to thrive in life, we must do this countless times more.
Most of us will not leave our last game with a championship medal dangling from our necks, but we will all walk away from the game we love with a knowledge of how to find immense success in everything we pursue.
A lone player walks across the field.