My son Harrison is a football player and I have failed. He is only 16 and I never meant this to happen. He is gentle, kind and a musician, and is the family peacemaker. After all, his two siblings are older girls and though they were a bit hard on him, that comes with the territory. I wanted him to be a surfer and a basketball player and, but I get ahead of myself.
I am one of the founders of Sage Hill High School, the non-denominational private high school located on Newport Coast Road near the 73 Toll Road. Our beginning philosophy was “Excellence and Diversity in Equal Measure” and we thought we knew what we were doing. We did not. It did not matter. The school is now celebrating its 10th anniversary and is, I am quite proud to state, a screaming success. Ask any student. They love it.
The founding vision was to keep the school small (especially class size, which averages about 11 students per teacher) with a clear emphasis on academics. My personal belief was that athletics would not be very important. I was wrong. Almost 80 percent of the students are on one of our teams. It is their choice.
Back to Harrison. At first, I thought my dreams would come true. He grew up skim-boarding and playing basketball. As a Sage freshman, Harrison was on the JV basketball team and really enjoyed it.
Then late last school year, Harrison was playing catch with a football when the football coach wandered by. Coach J.R. Tolver reeks charisma and he knows every student’s name by sight. He saw Harrison with the ball, called him over and announced that Harrison needed to be on the team. Huh, my son, the skinny kid? Never.
Fool me. I never considered the primal urge of football. Even at supposedly cerebral Sage Hill, Friday night football is it. Hundreds of people show up and scream their hearts out.
Flash forward to last fall and the year’s first JV football game. Harrison was playing quarterback and mothers for the other team were yelling, “kill the quarterback!” I am not kidding. In the next-to-last play of the game, they did — kill the quarterback — or in this case broke his collarbone.
For me, that was just fine. Harrison would mend and go back to the more gentle basketball and in the off-season, join the school’s surf team. The whole family could just forget about that football nonsense where kids broke body parts.
Again, fool me. Harrison doubled-down and joined football spring training. That translated into workouts beginning at—this is not an exaggeration—dawn. Dawn? Yes, dawn. I know because sometimes I drove him and for me, dawn is a nightmare.
During the summer, the workouts will be four hours a day.
Plus, to “bulk-up”, Harrison is on a special diet and weight training, about all of which he is avid.
So, I guess I have failed. I wanted my son to pursue gentlemanly sports, ones where he could soar into the court’s air and surf with the dolphins. Instead, this fall he again will be in the mud and dirt.
Moreover, mothers from other teams will scream for him to be killed, and he will be a macho man and my dreams will have died.
Damn school. Damn football. Damn primal urges.
Michael Ray grew up in Newport, currently lives in Laguna and is involved in many non-profits.