Our last ride

The Citizens' Voice - - Newspaper In Education - ERIC JEF­FRIES GNA In­sider Eric Jef­fries is a se­nior at Greater Nanticoke Area High School. Stu­dent col­umns are pub­lished Wed­nes­days dur­ing the school year.

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.

PHOTO BY ERIC JEF­FRIES

A lone player walks across the field.

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