The friday night lessons I learned each autumn of my youth molded me into the woman I am today. I can still smell the crisp night air: a fusion of popcorn, distant chimney smoke, and sweat. I can still hear the crunching hits as they happened close to me on the sideline, the cheerleaders’ voices echoing through the charged air, the roar of the crowd as fans clapped with gusto and stomped their feet feverishly on the metal bleachers. But mostly, I hear the booming words of my father—inspiring, encouraging, critiquing…coaching. Looking back, what I see is a football field that has served as the foundation on which I’ve built my life. I see a little girl inspired by the world around her.
My father was a high school football coach and I came of age on his sideline. I served his football teams in many prominent positions those formative years. I was a water-girl and a ball-girl. But the job I prized most was walking in his shadow and holding the cord to his headset—an important job requiring that I give all of myself and look sternly at football players twice my age for stepping on the cord and possibly jeopardizing my daddy’s communication with the all-knowing press box perched high above our heads.
From that sideline and his side, I constructed my view of the world—a view steeped in determination, perseverance, and drive. A view that believes miracles can happen and that losses are imminent…but do not have to be debilitating. I learned to keep your head up after you lose and to look the other team members in the eye as you shook hands after the game.
In high school, I was still on my father’s sideline—but as a cheerleader. At its purest form, cheerleading promotes all that is good and worthwhile in this world through encouragement, excitement and a dedication to the betterment of not just a chosen team, but to all. Cheerleading, coupled with my previous sideline experience, shaped my outlook on life. My principles and values were established long ago through weekly lessons in endurance, exuberance, and pain.
There’s much more to life than friday night football…but those friday night lessons prepared me for my adult life. Those friday night lessons enabled me to successfully cope with the death of a husband at 27 and the birth of my son two months later. Those friday night lessons prepared me to be an effective and loving single mom. And those friday night lessons pushed me to find love again, remarry and dedicate my life to my family and my passions.
Every football season I think back to the smells, the sights, the sounds, and the emotional experiences that paved my path in this world…and I am forever grateful.
– Jenni Parrish