God Bless Parents Of Student-Athletes

Here’s to the parents of student-athletes, God bless them.

A generation and more ago, I did my share of attending wrestling matches, baseball games and dance.

As a grandparent, I haven’t been as close to the athletic-cultural careers of grandchildren. Some live near Philly; others are in the Washington, D.C. area; and a gaggle lives in Warren. I have seen a few games and plays, though not many.

What fades away is how much time is involved, and what the weather is like.

Earlier this month, West Chester University’s women’s field hockey team from near Philadelphia traveled to Slippery Rock University, an hour away from me in Brookville. Granddaughter Audree is the starting goalie. It was also Audree’s birthday. So I went.

What I know about field hockey can be fit inside a 3-by-6 mailing envelope, while what I do not know about field hockey could fill a good-sized file folder.

But it is played with a ball like baseball, using sticks a la ice hockey, and on a 100-yard field first built for football. So I can follow, sort of.

“Showers,” said the weather forecast. Hah. These were autumnal 40-degrees soakings, angle-blown in cruel, cutting bursts across Slippery Rock’s Bob DeSpirito Field, seating 10,000.

Counting me, there were 67 people in the stands. Most of us wore outdoorsy boots, rain or hunting pants, parkas and gloves. Dozens huddled beneath umbrellas.

On the field, the women played in kneesocks, shorts and short-sleeved shirts. A few wore long sleeves, sweaters or knee-length shorts, but most did not. That is toughness.

Audree was required to be clothed head-to-toe, plus leg pads, goalie gloves and a headgear.

For her, that was the good news with respect to the weather.

The bad news is what a field hockey goalie does for more than an hour in a 70-minute game: Stand there. The action occurs at midfield or in the other team’s territory. I was amazed that she could spring quickly after shots when Slippery Rock’s offense moved the ball close to West Chester’s goal.

Spring she did, but she got no saves, whereas the Slippery Rock goalie got credit for seven saves.

Better goalie?

Not at all, I was advised by a knowledgeable parent/fan. West Chester has a better team (13-4) this season than does Slippery Rock (6-12), he informed me. So it stood to reason that Slippery Rock’s goalie would be busier than West Chester’s goalie; West Chester spent most of the game attacking.

The scoring came early and late for Slippery Rock, with two goals angle-fired into the net without an opportunity for a save.

In between, West Chester scored three times within two minutes -wham, wham, wham -and that held up.

So did the parents. The Slippery Rock parental contingent outnumbered the West Chesterians, 3 to 1, with some Slippery Rock students also braving the cutting squalls.

I hadn’t told Audree that I would be there. So, during the game, I kept quiet, not wanting her to hear a familiar voice, look toward the stands at the wrong moment and get whapped upside the head by that really hard white ball.

Not so the other parents. Leather-lunged West Chester fans cheered offensive thrusts and defensive parries, shouting “Side it!” and “Move to the ball!” with such vigor that I soon gleaned the advantages that would be gained when players did those things.

In between, they chatted animatedly with each other, discussed where to eat after the trip, and ignored the low 40s temperatures and 20 mph winds.

My favorite sport, baseball, often has 3-2 games. But baseball, like football, consists of set-piece moves, whereas field hockey, like basketball, ebbs and flows. Even most of the referees’ whistles did not stop the clock; the players knew that “foot” meant an illegal touch, time to pick up the ball, set up a play, and go quickly into action.

But baseball is not played in such fierce weather conditions. The field hockey players and fans took it totally in stride.

I understand the players’ motivation. They are athletes: Pride, competitiveness, the quest for perfection.

A single word, love, of the child and/or the sport, motivates parents and grandparents to drive there, sit there, spend money there, and chew up entire days there.

I had forgotten the thigh-chilling coldness of wet metal bleachers, the eyeglasses-smearing effect of sideways squalls, the futility of hollering when sitting far away from the action, the pride in their children and willingness to endure.

At game’s end, I wished Audree a happy birthday, assured her that the requisite birthday card was already in the mail, exchanged hugs and drove home, happy for the warmth inside the car, and the good feeling of having watched a cherished granddaughter play a game that she loves. But I only had to go once.

Here’s to the parents and grandparents of student athletes who do this game after game. God bless them.

Denny Bonavita is a former editor at newspapers in DuBois and Warren. He lives near Brookville. Email: denny2319@windstream.net.