A Father's Proudest Moment At The Game

Friday nights in the fall are for high school football. Coaches. Players and their proud parents. And a community that lived and died by the numbers on the scoreboard. It was that way for 20-plus years. Until last Friday night.


I realized that Friday nights and high school football games are about more than just the athletes and coaches, stats and scores. And I realized that pride extends to, and from, more than just the players' parents.

You see, from junior high on, I was there on Friday nights. Either as a fan, a sports writer or a website operator. Halftime was an inconvenience, other than to tally stats and head to the restroom or concession stand.

Get it over with already! Get back to the game!

Then, after 9-11, I got out of that business. I had been to one game since. Frankly, I hadn't missed it much.

Then came the season-opener for 2006.

My oldest daughter, Leeza Diane, is a freshman at Fossil Ridge High School (far north Fort Worth, Keller ISD). She was excited all summer, entering a much larger, bolder and braver new world in her life.

After four years of playing alto sax in the band – and being pretty good at it – Leeza decided she wanted to try out for what we used to call "the flag corps." Today, the politically-correct terminology is "Color Guard."

(Keep in mind, her dad created an uproar in his college paper when he wrote that those haughty, irrational band people apparently thought high school was created so they could have a band. That didn't sit well with those former band members.)

In my mind, the band had been there for the fight song. Nothing else.

And, like Leeza's new world in high school, my eyes were opened to a whole new world.

And it was every bit as exciting as my old football world! It had all the elements – discipline, hard work, coordination, talent, knowledge, athleticism, high expectations, agony and joy, and demanding coaches.

I saw the dedication that Leeza put into learning to work with that flag. She practiced all spring, trying to make the cut. Over the summer, she worked on it as the heat would permit.

In late July, Leeza found out her summer vacation was over, according to the band director. It was training camp, and it was deadly serious business.

I saw the look in Leeza's eyes, the sunburn, the hurt and the exhaustion on the first day of school after spending more than two hours in 103-degree sun in the middle of a concrete parking lot as the band began working on its presentation.

Day after day, 100-degree cloudless day after 100-degree cloudless day – all on that concrete parking lot.

Think the band isn't serious business? Think again after you have to do pushups on 130-degree pavement when someone makes a mistakes.

But Leeza never backed down. She wanted this, and she worked hard to get it.

(A note here: Band parents work plenty damn hard, too. Ever wonder why the band booster club is so active? It has to be! It costs each FRHS band student $325 a year to pay for instructors – not including instrument rental or other costs incurred along the way. Color Guard has to pay an additional $125 for costumes. Leeza is already on her second pair of $15 batting gloves after wearing out the first pair, also not included in the costume cost.

There were car washes throughout the summer. More fund raisers than you can wave a flag at. It's mind boggling! Much of the equipment the band uses was purchased by booster clubs of years past. As the director put it, the school pays for in-school needs, but everything outside the normal school day must be funded by the booster club.

I'll be the first to argue for top-flight funding of athletics. But, it's really difficult to understand how we can pay for so many assistant coaches and equipment for athletics but we do such a poor job of providing for the band and its students. It's not fair to the kids, and it's not fair to the parents.)

The days building up to the first game passed quickly. Leeza tried to keep an even keel.

But Friday, as the bus pulled out of the parking lot to head to the stadium, Leeza called me. "I'm pretty excited," she said. "And, I'm getting nervous!"

Surely, she wasn't any more excited than I was! And, if she was more nervous than I was then, she would have to be physically ill.

"Oh, I forgot to tell you, there's no socializing at the game," she added.

Man, all the old feelings of Friday night came back. I was geeked up, ready to go. I was anxious, I was nervous. I was finding stuff to do to make the time go by faster.

As I walked in the stadium, the FRHS band – the Panther Regiment – was entering the stands, Color Guard at the back. I walked by, looking for Leeza. There she was, my little girl! She grinned at me, and I smiled brightly back at her. I passed on without waving. I didn't want to embarrass her.

We sat next to the band. Right next to the band.

The director wanted precision. He had the facial growl of a football coach in the middle of the third quarter of a playoff game, the iron chin of Bill Cowher. He wanted – and demanded -- perfection. All the way down to how each member entered the stands, stood with his back to the field, how they turned together, sat down simultaneously – and, of course, how they played.

"Every year, and I mean every year, the first time we play the school song, somebody is behind. We're never together that first song on the first game," he said.

"Let's try to change that this year."

At his side was drum major Monica Rodriguez.

She's not much over five feet tall, and she probably doesn't weigh 100 pounds soaking wet.

But, believe me, you don't want to cross her!

She is demanding, just like a quality quarterback. And she had that stare, the one I've seen before, the one that the coach has at you as you return to the sideline after missing an assignment. And it all came complete with that I'm-not-tolerating-it, hands-on-hips stance.

I feared for the safety of the person who might hit a wrong note or fall a beat behind. It would not be pretty to see Monica body slam somebody.

Time for the national anthem.

The Panther Regiment hit it perfectly.

Rowlett played its school song.

Now, FRHS.

Monica's eyes were wide, looking for somebody to mess up. The band begins to play.

Then, the second or third stanza. (I'm no band major, folks.)

Monica can't resist. She breaks a wry-but-relieving grin. She quickly realizes her "mistake" and erases the grin. Back to being deadly serious.

Ryne, the youngest of my three, and I watched the first half, eyeballing the play surrounding FRHS standout defensive tackle Chris Perry (committed to Miami). I tried to explain to Ryne, 9, the intricacies of Rowlett's defensive coverages on different plays.

Then, 15 minutes before halftime, I noticed it.

Wind!!!!!

Wind always plays a part in a football game. But not once did I think of it as how it pertained to the ballgame.

Oh no! There hasn't been a breeze, let alone a wind all summer. And now, just before her first halftime, Leeza is going to have to deal with catching that flag in the wind!

My head flew sideways, looking to the corner of the field where Leeza and teammates were practicing. Flag up, flag down. Flag in the air, flag back in her hands.

Wooo!

Finally, it's halftime. During Rowlett's performance, I raced to the concession stand to get my eighth-grade daughter MyraSue and Ryne some snacks.

C'mon! How slow can this line move!

I made it back to our seats just in time.

Panic!

The band is lined up on the far sideline, but I can't find Leeza. Then, finally, her mother spots her.

For the next few minutes, nothing else existed in the world. Osama bin Laden could have sat down right beside me, and he would have walked away a free man without my knowledge.

I had the biggest smile as Leeza did that funky sideways walk without really turning sideways. She moved gracefully, through the horns, through the drum line (which she was excited about), careful not to get clipped by the passing flute, moving to the near sideline, and never missing a mark. She was perfect!

Let whomever score the winning touchdown. His parents won't be any prouder than I was at that moment!

The show is coming to a close, and it's a big toss into the air. Leeza is on the right end.

The flag is up . . .

Stupid wind currents!

Her flag went up, then took a left hand turn. Flag down, five yards away. Leeza instinctively steps to retrieve it, then remembers that she must continue. She turns back away from the flag in a split-second, extends both arms and right knee out, striking the closing pose just as the song ends.

Oh well, everybody makes mistakes. Some throw interceptions or fumble. Some miss tackles. Some get holding penalties. And some of us miss field goals.

No different over here on this end of the stands. Some hit a wrong note, miss a beat and lay out until the next stanza. Some misstep and almost fall. Some miss the baton or the flag. And some are victimized by the wind.

But they are still great performers.

And they do things that I can't do.

They all deserve my respect.

And that beautiful little girl on the right end of the Fossil Ridge Color Guard, I love her to death!

Last Friday night, she gave me one of the sweetest highlights of my life!

I can't wait until this Thursday night. First road trip, to Irving. I'm also geared up for the regular season finale'. The next door neighbor's oldest daughter is in the Birdville High School band, Fossil Ridge's last district opponent.

Water melon, water melon rind! We got the best Color Guard, unless your blind!

And where I was the one that always worried about playoff games, it's now Leeza.

Normally, she couldn't care less about the outcome of a football game. Now, she's talking about, and excited about, Fossil Ridge making the 4A playoffs and a possible run "to state."

I'll explain to her later that "state" is really called the "Texas Bowl." But, that can wait.

Before that, we have Marching Contest to worry about. And, we have halftime shows to win!

Go Panthers!

And, go Panther Regiment!

(Buck Cargal was a sports writer for Wichita Falls Times/Record News and Mesquite News, sports editor of The Graham Leader and Hood County News, and operated the Pigskin Prep website for Texas high school football from 1998-2001.)


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